Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading the Tree Rings

If the majority of the world's most top notch climatologists or whatever they're called all agree that global warming is occurring at an alarming rate and we, as men, are largely to blame and they are in fact wrong,that really it's just a big media-hyped farce (like witches in Salem) why are all these scientists in agreement? What's their motive? Why do they want to squash dissent (or maybe they don't, maybe that's just the media). In other words, what's in it for them to lie or to distort or to exaggerate?
I've asked this question to people smarter than me before and they've said something along the lines of: so they can keep getting gov. funding for their science projects. It's easier for me to see the motives of the few scientists who say man isn't causing or quickly accelerating global warming--most of them (correct me if I'm wrong) are funded by oil companies. Link.
looooove the East Anglia climategate story.  

Deference to experts is a logical fallacy. So is attacking motives instead of arguments. 

But in case you really did think that climatologists were some sort of impartial arbiters of fact and truth, I'm glad you are now totally disabused of this notion. Whatever motivates them, it is now very clear that they are, in fact, ideologues committed to stifling dissent.

Of course, that doesn't mean they are necessarily wrong.

Global warming alarmist who want the world's inhabitants to significantly reduce their carbon foot prints have the burden of proving their case. They need to show, with some degree of certainty, 1) the earth is warming, 2) it is, at least partially, caused by man (anthropogenic) 3) warming is bad, 4) it's bad enough that it justifies a drastic reduction in our standard of living 5) technology will not be able to solve the problem. Only if they can prove all of these does it make sense to dramatically reduce our use of hydrocarbons without a adequate substitute.

I could never get past one. Not that I know the earth isn't getting warmer; just that I doubt that anyone can accurately measure or show that it is. I agree with Derbyshire, that measuring the earth's temperature within one tenth of a degree is basically a fool's errand. And it's not just the temperature now, but the temperature going back hundreds of years from different points all over the earth, measured from ice cores and tree rings, etc. 

A lot of smart scientists do seem to think that the earth is getting warmer and that the warming is caused by man. And even though that has no bearing on the merits, it certainly makes the theory of global warming seem more plausible. However, we now know that the original East Anglia temperature data was deleted, and that even the data Anglia kept was inadequate and improperly processed. So, did this consensus of  scientist come from each individual scientist collecting his own data, or are they relying on the "treated" data from the likes of East Anglia?

UPDATE: There is also some money to be had and influence to be peddled by being a climate change believing scientist (again, not that this means they are wrong). See here and here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Econ Talk Quiz

My commute is about 35 minutes. That gives me a lot of time to listen my iPod/iPhone. One of my favorite things to listen to is Russ Robert's podcast, Econ-Talk.

Here's a hypothetical question Russ asked one of the podcasts. How would taxing each cup of coffee 20 cents affect the size of the cup? I'll put my answer in the comments. The blog is also supposed to have an answer,and if I find it, I'll paste the URL in the comments, too.

Plasma vs. LCD vs. 720p vs. 1080p vs. My Pocket Book Bleg

Dear Blog Reader(s) (Brett):

I may or may not have some money to buy a high definition TV, and I am looking for some guidance. The two  main questions In my mind are: 1) should I get an LCD or a Plasma? and 2) Should I get a 1080p or a 720p?

I'm leaning strongly towards a plasma. The drawbacks to plasma compared to LCDs are that they are heavier, break easier, subject to screen burn, and use more electricity. The pluses are that plasmas have better refresh rates, are cheaper, and have darker blacks.

I'm also leaning towards a 720p, mostly because of price. Obviously, 1080p means a lot more pixels, and potentially a much sharper picture. Apparently, however, it's really hard to tell the difference between the two, and nearly impossible if you sit far from the screen. I'm eying a 50 inch, which is pretty big. Still, in our upstairs room, we currently sit about 10-12 feet from our 22 inch TV. To get the effect of the extra pixels in a 1080p, you are supposed to sit no further than 1.5 times the diagonal from the screen. With a 50 inch TV, you are not supposed to sit further than 6 1/4 feet from the TV. Pretty unlikely. Thus, I am not sure higher resolution will even be discernible, and with a TV that big, I'm not sure I'll ever want to sit that close. Also, most HD sources, like broadcasts (which I don't have in HD now, and which I don't want to pay for) and video games, aren't in 1080p, although blue ray is.

My basic thought process is: darker blacks, plus bigger TV, plus less money, equals the best deal. That said, I always have this fear that I'll discover there is just some feature, (like resolution) that I must have after I buy the TV. For now, though It seems like 1080p is not worth paying an extra $300-$500.

Dear reader(s), do you have any experience with this? any advice? Is there anything I should be considering that I am not?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who are you?

Are we more than just our behavior? Is it nonsensical to say, that you love the sinner but hate the sin? Or that you like someone, but disapprove of their lifestyle?

"Who we are" is mostly what we do and say.  However, it's a serious mistake to take one flaw or behavior and use it as a basis for generalizing about a person. Teachers are not all alike. Lawyers are not all created equal. I like all sorts of people who have habits that I disapprove of, and I wouldn't say those people are "their bad" behaviors. We also all have inherent worth as humans,--or if you're religious, as god's children--regardless of our actions.

This works the other way, too. If you have one talent or trait that you are proud of, that's great, but that's not "you."

All this is obvious enough, but some people apparently don't know it.

This one's for (but not about) you, Leigh.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Economic Intuition

conversation this week demonstrated once again how otherwise smart people do not understand or intuit the principles of supply and demand.

I and two other educated people were talking about getting a college education, and how with the bad economy, more people wanted to going to school. This increase in demand, one person thought, would decrease the price of tuition. The other person seemed to agree. I smiled. More people seeking a particular service make that service less expensive? That's exactly backwards.

Perhaps they assume that with increased demand comes an even bigger increase in supply. But there's no rule that says that is the case. Increasing supply, takes time, and in this case, some significant fixed costs (buildings, etc.) That cannot be implemented over night. The near term result of more people wanting to go to school is going to be higher tuition.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Most Elders Quorum Lessons Generally Suck and How to Improve Them

I think there is a general consensus that elders quorum lessons are usually painfully bad. I have a few thoughts on why this is.

First, elders quorums are generally large--too large. With smaller groups you get more of a discussion dynamic. With a larger group, you get one of two results. Either there are fewer commenters and they are eccentric in some way, or there are too many comments that take the lesson off on tangents, or bogged down on one particular aspect of a lesson.

Second, elders quorums are too diverse. You have people in their 20s up to their 50s. People with kids, and people without. Married and not married. It's harder to teach to a diverse audience.

Third, elders quorums usually get the leftover room for their meetings, so they are frequently in the gym or on the stage. These are places of high traffic and echo, making it harder to pay attention to the lesson.

Fourth, elders quorum instructors are not always the best. Most of the talented teachers are teaching young men or other classes, or they happen to also be talented leaders, and so serve in a leadership position.

Despite these difficulties, I think that there are a few keys to a good lesson.

First is good participation. A good instructor gets participation with questions. but not just any questions--and this is the key--they ask good questions.

What makes a good question? First, the answer to the question can't be too obvious. This happens all the time. If the answer is "read your scriptures" or "pray regularly" then you have asked a bad question.

The question also should get at the heart of the lesson. It should be in the "trunk" of the tree, so to speak, instead of calling for speculation.

It's good if the question has an answer. Sometimes this is impossible because the best discussion questions will not have one answer. Still, I think that the instructor should have a model answer in mind, and should use that answer to move on to another topic.

In my mind a good lesson goes like this: (1) topical instruction (perhaps supported by authority) (2) good question (3) discussion of question (4) instructor's answer to question (perhaps supported by authority) (5) segue to next topic. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The other key element to a good lesson is story telling. The keys to making stories work with the lesson are: (1) the story has to be topical--like a really good illustration of something in the lesson, (2) its better if it actually has happened to the instructor, and (3) the story should be well told (not too long, not too short).

A lesson with a few good questions and one or two good stories will pretty much be a good lesson.

Every good lesson should also have a short testimony at the end.

 I think if instructors spend their time thinking of a few good stories and a few good questions, and proceeded in this manner, EQ lessons would be a lot better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Church, Government and Marriage

My boss thinks that the LDS Church should encourage the government to get out of the marriage business. I slightly disagree. I think the government should mostly get out of the marriage business, but I don't know that the Church should take what is essentially a libertarian position.

While the Church reserves the right to speak out on moral issues, unless it's going to speak out on everything political, it doesn't really have a reason to take a libertarian stance. Marriage, however, is a moral issue as it's an integral part Mormon conception of life after death. Thus, the Mormon church has an important interest in how that institution is treated in law. Speaking out on this moral issue and supporting prop. 8 was entirely appropriate.

You could say, what does it matter to the church what the law says?--it can simply do its own thing. After all, Mormons only believe Mormon marriages are eternally valid, yet they doesn't object to all non-Mormon marriages. But Prop. 8 was a funny law. It gave essentially equal substantive rights to gay couples. The difference between same sex and normal couples was in what that relationship was called. In essence the Prop. 8 fight was over the word "marriage" and its meaning. That seems like an appropriate moral fight for a church that believes marriage between man an woman is sacred and that homosexual relationships are inappropriate.

Despite sitcom jokes, apparently "marriage" is still viewed positively, because Prop. 8 was essentially a big fight over how the government uses that word. A homosexual couple can go and get "married" in their own ceremony, and then get a certificate of "civil union" from the state and essentially have all the same rights as a heterosexual couple. But that's not good enough. Gays need the state to tell them that their arrangement is actually "marriage." I find it a little strange that gays so want the approval of their hetro peers. It's like they're saying "please, please accept me!"  That's because government approval is essentially majority approval. But the majority doesn't approve and doesn't think these relationships are okay. So the majority is saying, we don't want to harm you gays in any way, but, while we appreciate your affinity for musical theater and your fashion advice, we don't actually approve of your sexual practices or proclivities.

I generally support getting the government out the marriage business. I don't trust government to regulate "moral" behavior, which doesn't actually impose negative externalities on others. We can disagree about where to draw that line, but I think it's pretty clear that same-sex married couples do not create many more negative externalities than unmarried same-sex couples. Getting government out of the marriage business would also alleviate the need for the Church to fight these fights. But as long as, the government is in the "marriage business," it makes perfect sense for the church to fight these battles.