Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tail. Wagging. Dog.

Presented without comment, except to refer you to my previous columns on the topic here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


(h/t Tyler Cowen)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

This Is Water

Oh, hey. Long time, no see. As usual, I've got a few posts that I'm thinking about/working on, but for now, in the spirit of graduation season and clever commencement speeches that sometimes go viral, I'd like to share with you this excerpt from the late author David Foster Wallace, delivered at Kenyon College in 2005. I've seen this video a few places lately, and I think that it's ten minutes very well spent. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Photo of the Year candidate

This is from last night's Brewers-Giants game (a walkoff win for the Brewers), and it is absolutely awesome. Great work by the cameraman, AP's Morry Gash; not such great work by number 8, Ryan Braun. Thanks to Deadspin for the heads up.


You'll get him next time, Brauny.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The cupcake bubble bursts

Courtesy of my main man The Red Cowboy comes this gem from the Wall Street Journal. Sadly for all you folks out there with a sweet tooth, it seems that the great cupcake bubble of 2011 is in the midst of bursting.
The icing is coming off America's cupcake craze.
The dessert became a cultural and economic phenomenon over the last decade, with gourmet cupcake shops proliferating across the country, selling increasingly elaborate and expensive concoctions.
The craze hit a high mark in June 2011, when Crumbs Bake Shop Inc., a New York-based chain, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the ticker symbol CRMB. Its creations—4" tall, with fillings such as vanilla custard, caps of butter cream cheese, and decorative flourishes like a whole cookie—can cost $4.50 each.
After trading at more than $13 a share in mid-2011, Crumbs has sunk to $1.70. It dropped 34% last Friday, in the wake of Crumbs saying that sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections, and the stock slipped further this week.
Crumbs in part blamed store closures from Hurricane Sandy, but others say the chain is suffering from a larger problem: gourmet-cupcake burnout.
"The novelty has worn off," says Kevin Burke, managing partner of Trinity Capital LLC, a Los Angeles investment banking firm that often works in the restaurant industry.
Yeah, that'll happen. In part, it's something I discussed in this post about "Brie Syndrome" back when Harry & David filed for bankruptcy. Once something becomes ubiquitous and commoditized, its days as a viable business tend to become numbered, unless the original purveyor adapts quickly and capably.


Either way, this article had some absolutely amazing gems in it. This passage here, for example, was fabulous.
Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Jason and Mia Bauer opened the first Crumbs bakery in 2003 on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Today, the company, which also sells $42 "colossal" cupcakes that serve six to eight, is one of the largest players in the gourmet-cupcake industry, with locations in at least 10 states and the District of Columbia.
Crumbs went public in June 2011 after a shell company bought it. The buyer, 57th Street General Acquisition Corp., had raised money the previous year for its Crumbs purchase. 57th Street changed its name to Crumbs Bake Shop shortly after the merger.
A "cupcake" that serves six to eight?? IT'S CALLED A CAKE, YOU IDIOTS! A CUPCAKE THAT FEEDS SIX TO EIGHT IS CALLED A CAKE!! I mean, honestly people, what are we doing here?

And a shell company? Really? You people set up a shell company just so that you could buy a cupcake shop and take it public? Seems a little over-the-top, don't you think? But hey, what do I know, right? These people are all way richer than I am by now, and all on the back of a nice little cupcake bubble.

Man, I can't wait for the scone bubble. It's gonna be EPIC.

[Wall Street Journal]

Friday, April 12, 2013

Piezoelectricity update

I've spoken very briefly about piezoelectricity in blog posts here, here, here, and here, so I think it's worth giving a quick update on the recent goings-on in that space. At last week's Paris Marathon, piezoelectricity took a bit of a leap into the mainstream, with a creative project from British company Pavegen Systems. From a Bloomberg article written prior to the race:
Paris Marathon organizers will lay energy-harvesting tiles across the course on Sunday to ensure not all the effort expended by the race’s 40,000 runners goes to waste.
The flexible tiles made from recycled truck tires will span a portion of the Champs Elysees for about 25 meters (82 feet) of the 42.2-kilometer course, according to Pavegen Systems Ltd., the U.K. maker of the tiles. Each footstep generates as much as 8 watts of kinetic energy, which is fed back to batteries that can charge display screens and electronic signs along the route, the company said.
Schneider Electric SA (SU), the race sponsor, aims to eventually make the Paris Marathon an event that generates energy rather than consumes it, Aaron Davis, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in Pavegen’s statement. London-based Pavegen aims for its tiles to help cut carbon emissions and boost energy efficiency in cities around the world in the future, it said.
“Imagine if your run or walk to work could help to power the lights for your return journey home in the evening,” Pavegen Chief Executive Officer Laurence Kemball-Cook, who invented the technology, said in the statement. It’s “a viable new type of off-grid energy technology that people love to use and which can make a low-carbon contribution wherever there is high footfall, regardless of the weather.”
Pavegen declined to say how much energy the tiles will produce because there is a competition for the public to guess. Schneider Electric will donate an extra 10,000 euros ($12,850) to charity if generation tops 7 kilowatt hours. That’s enough to run a light bulb for about five days, according to Pavegen.
According to this article, it was unclear immediately after the race whether the 7 kWh goal had been met, but I nevertheless applaud the race organizers and the company for their creativity.


It's of course way too early to know if this technology is realistically scalable or viable, but it's clearly a step in the right direction. The more energy we can harvest from our own activities, the less we have to "produce" or mine or burn. I'm hopeful that this is a method that can catch on and become economical enough to achieve wide acceptance.

[Bloomberg]

Daily Show on the NCAA

I've got a few posts here and there that I'm working on, but this is absolutely beautiful and needs to be shared. We'll go ahead and call this your Clip of the Week, from Aasif Mandvi at the Daily Show.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My first cooking post (Lamb Pasanda)

Back when I started this blog, I planned to use it as a place to share some of my passions and skills with all of you. I've done a good job with some of those things (sports, current events, economic analysis), a reasonable job on some others (running, music, The Simpsons), and a terrible job on the rest—most notably, cooking. I love to cook, and I do it all the time, but besides a few posts here and there about food and our food supply, I haven't talked about it here at all. That changes today.

Every week or so—or whenever I cook up a meal that I'm particularly proud of—I'll share a recipe up here with all of you, along with some helpful hints as to how you can cook it yourself. No, I'm not going to turn this into some sort of amateur food blog—the world has plenty of those already. But I do feel as though there's a side of me that isn't being reflected here, and I think I should rectify that starting today.


This weekend was Easter weekend, and the weather is just starting to improve around here, so I took the opportunity to fire up the grill and cook one of my all-time favorites, a recipe first discovered by my father, the original grill master in my family. That recipe is for Lamb Pasanda, and it's a true classic—the recipe is a little different from what's described as "traditional pasanda" here on Wikipedia, but believe me, it's awesome. It's also insanely easy to make, especially if you've got a good blender like I was lucky enough to be given for Christmas last year.

If you've never used yogurt in a meat marinade, you are most definitely missing out. The yogurt tenderizes the meat while giving it an awesomely funky flavor, and the charring from the grill takes it all to the next level. Throw in some Indian-inspired spices and the terrific natural flavor of lamb, and this dish is as delicious as it is unique. But enough rambling; let's get to the recipe.

LAMB PASANDA

Serves: 6 or more, depending on the size of lamb leg you buy
Time: about 30 minutes of active prep, 12-24 hours of inactive prep, and 10-20 minutes of cook time

Ingredients
 One 3-pound leg of lamb (boneless), butterflied and trimmed of excess fat
3 cups plain yogurt, well drained
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
One 1-inch piece grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon, 1 tablespoon whole cloves, and 4 cardamoms (powdered equivalents can vary... call it 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1.5 or 2 teaspoons of cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon or so of cardamom... rough estimates, of course, and you can switch it up to suit your tastes)
           
Instructions
Cut the butterflied lamb leg into individual pieces—two-inch cubes is a good target size. Set aside.

To make the marinade, combine all ingredients except the lamb in the container of a food processor or blender, and process until smooth.

Place the lamb and the marinade in a gallon-size Ziploc bag, tossing the pieces a bit so that they are well coated. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (really, aim for overnight), turning occasionally to keep the coating well distributed.

One hour before cooking time, remove the lamb from the refrigerator (and maybe remove the individual lamb pieces from the marinade) so that it can come to room temperature. Place the lamb pieces directly onto a hot grill (charcoal is much better than gas for this recipe, especially because this one can get a little messy underneath the grill grates... also, I highly recommend a chimney starter as opposed to lighter fluid, but now I'm just veering off topic. Nevertheless, if you've never used a chimney, start now. It's easy, it's cheap, and it gets your coals very hot, very quickly. Bobby Flay would be proud). 

Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of each piece, how hot (and how big) your grill is, and where on the grill your pieces are sitting, but it should be roughly 4-6 minutes per side. Resist the temptation to cover your grill. It will cook the meat through more quickly, but you'll sacrifice some of the charring that makes this meal so great.

When the lamb is done, you should have a nice char on each side of the meat, and when you press each piece with your finger, it should be firm but still have some "bounce" to it. Rare meat is much better than dry meat, so err on the side of "too rare", unless you're pregnant, afraid of blood, or both.

Serve immediately, along with some sort of vegetable (a simple grilled or broiled asparagus is fine) and a grain (like, say, couscous—for this meal I whipped up a quinoa salad with toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, and a citrus-mint vinaigrette... but that was for a holiday. You don't need to go crazy here...). If you're into wine, the beauty of this dish is that it can pair well with any number of wines. I served it with a Côtes du Rhône this weekend, and that seemed to work well, but I'd think that the meal would've stood up nicely against a Syrah or even a Malbec as well.

I don't know, I'm not a sommelier, I just like to drink wine with my dinner, okay? Maybe next time I'll get around to telling you about my dessert, which was in this case a nice, fresh, Key Lime Pie. Awesome stuff. Happy cooking, all. (And next time, I promise more pictures... I didn't think to take any this time around, so that one standard picture up there of my grill loaded up with meat will have to suffice, but I will take more in the future).

Fun with Opening Day rosters

April has always been one of my favorite months, mostly because it means the end of winter and the beginning of baseball season. Opening Day is something of a personal holiday for me, and so I don't totally mind that we've now stretched it out to last a full three days.

As a Red Sox fan, this year has a bit of a different feel for me, as the Sox purged half their roster last August and have now fully embraced a youth movement for the first time in years. As I mentioned on Twitter on Monday, the Sox' Opening Day lineup this year was their youngest on average since 1998, when Pedro Martinez made his Boston debut, Nomar Garciaparra was a 24-year-old MVP-caliber shortstop, and Manny Ramirez was a young slugger for the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians. Meanwhile, Jackie Bradley Jr., now the team's starting left fielder, was at home eagerly awaiting his 8th birthday. So yeah, it was a long time ago.


At any rate, my little bit of sleuthing with respect to the Sox' lineup led me to check out some other teams' lineups, to see what kinds of trends I might uncover. While this type of stuff might fall under the category of "Things That Interest Me and Only Me", so be it. I'll share it here anyway, just in case you care.

This year's Red Sox, with an average age right around 28.5 years old (remember, this is of the Opening Day starting lineup, not the whole roster), clocks in as the 8th-youngest lineup out of the 30 major league teams. The five youngest Opening Day lineups belonged to the Royals (27.1 years), Astros (27.5), Mariners (27.6), Nationals (27.7), and Indians (28.0), while the five oldest lineups belonged to the Yankees (31.6 years), Phillies (31.2), Rangers (30.7), Blue Jays (30.4), and Tigers (30.3).

The banged-up Yankees blow pretty much everyone else out of the water in terms of age, thanks in large part to the oldest outfield in baseball—at 34.5 years old, only the Cubs (33.5) come anywhere close. While the Yankees are currently fielding a cobbled-together lineup of rookies and retreads, things wouldn't be much different for them even if they were perfectly healthy. Substituting Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson for Nunez, Nix, Youkilis, and Wells actually increases the team's average age all the way up to 33.2 years old, a figure that would make them the oldest team in baseball by a margin of more than two years. No matter how you slice it, these guys are old.


All told, the average age of an Opening Day starter this year is 29 years, 39 days, yielding an average birthdate of February 23, 1984. The average birthdate for a Yankee, meanwhile, would be September 14, 1981, and for a Royal, March 11, 1986. In other words, I'd be older than average in any one of these lineups, and that's just a little bit depressing.

By position, Designated Hitters (like these guys), Right Fielders (like these guys), and First Basemen (like these guys) are the oldest on average, whereas Center Fielders (like these guys) and Shortstops (like these guys) are the youngest. There are 41 Opening Day starters who were born in the 1970s, 9 born in the 1990s, and about the same number who are younger than 25 (35 of them) as those who are 35 or older (37 of them). There were no Opening Day starters this year who were 40 or older, though Todd Helton and Ichiro came pretty darn close.


Age not doing it for you? You want to know about these guys' names? Fine, I can do that, too. As far as last names, we had 4 Cabreras, 3 Gonzalezes, and 15 other surnames shared by 2 players (also a Barmes and a Barnes, a Beltran and a Beltre, a Brantley and a Brantly, a Braun and a Brown, and a Gomes and a Gomez).

There were 10 guys named Chris, 7 guys named Justin, 7 Matts and a Matthew, 6 guys named Carlos and one named Carl. We had 5 Michaels, 2 Miguels, and 4 Mikes; 5 Joses and 5 Joshes; 5 Jasons and 2 Jaysons; 5 Brandons and a Brendan. We had 4 AJs, a BJ, a CC, a JJ, a JP, and a guy named RA. And finally, in my personal favorite, there were 3 Johns, 2 Jons, a Juan, a Jonathan, a Jonathon, a Johnny, a Jonny, and a Jhonny. Just spell it however you want, guys, it doesn't make it any more unique.

We also had 7 names that showed up as both a first name and a last name—those would be Desmond, Francisco, Gordon, Jay, Martin, Nelson, and Ryan. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective), none of those gentlemen owned the unique distinction of having the same first and last name. I'm holding out hope for a Desmond Desmond somewhere in the near future, and I'm sure there's somebody out there who will oblige.

Do names and ages have anything at all to do with the overall success of a team? Who knows? The favorites out in Vegas this year include one of the youngest teams (Nationals) and some of the oldest teams (Tigers, Blue Jays), with a lot of muddled confusion in between. Let's just hold this one for later, and revisit it all in October. Sound good?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

About FGCU (and some bad analysis)

Deadspin has a fairly interesting article up today about Florida Gulf Coast University, this year's surprise entrant into the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen. Touching on some topics that I've previously discussed in posts here and here, author Jonathan Mahler puts a different spin on this Cinderella story.
Don’t waste your time wooing Nobel laureates to your faculty or trying to recruit National Merit Scholars to a college they’ve never heard of. Do what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do: Devote your resources to building a first-class Division I basketball program.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but FGCU pulled it off pretty quickly... The Eagles basketball program started in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and had to apply more than once before being accepted into the National Collegiate Athletic Association—at the Division II level. Even after being granted permission to move up to Division I, the team had to wait three years before becoming eligible for postseason play.
Florida Gulf Coast University won its first NCAA tournament game in the school’s second year of eligibility, a mere 16 years after graduating its first student. Harvard won its first tournament game this year, too—371 years after its first commencement...
Just how valuable is a strong showing in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? As it happens, Butler, whose improbable run to the 2010 Final Four is still the stuff of legend, has studied this very question. Its near-championship run—it lost in the finals to Duke—generated precisely $639,273,881.82 in publicity for the university. That’s to say nothing of the increases in merchandise sales and charitable giving, or the 41 percent surge in applications.
Interesting stuff, although as I've pointed out in my previous posts, not all schools are as successful at this game as FGCU has been—many more have thrown untold millions at their athletic departments and had hardly any success at all on the field or as an institution. On balance, it's pretty much a zero-sum game—some win big, but many others lose just as much.

Of course, where the author really lost me wasn't in this conclusion, but in his odd insistence that this Cinderella run somehow should have been foreseen by all of us, or that it was somehow inevitable. Mahler writes:
[Head coach Andy] Enfield hasn’t exactly had to scrounge for talent at FGCU. His team’s point guard, Brett Comer, grew up playing youth basketball with Austin Rivers, a current starter for the New Orleans Hornets and the son of former NBA star Doc Rivers. The father of one of Enfield’s bench players, Filip Cvjeticanin, played alongside Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic on the Yugoslavian national team that won a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics.
These are some pretty tenuous links here, my man. I, for example, grew up playing baseball against this guy, in games umpired by this guy, and I coached this guy at a baseball camp when I was in high school. My father, meanwhile, shared a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1983, when I was two years old.

Do these connections alone make me a top-tier athletic talent, or a budding superstar journalist? Of course not. All they do is illustrate what we already know about the world, which is that it can be a pretty small place sometimes. If you play sports for long enough, you're pretty much guaranteed to line up with or against somebody who's pretty talented—and if not, you've probably got a relative who did (hey, come to think of it, my uncle did play hoops against Patrick Ewing in the Boston city championship way back when... maybe I've got more of a future in basketball than I'd realized).

As for FGCU, if they had really figured out a way to somehow magically attract top athletes to their school, they wouldn't have been recruiting kids who "grew up playing youth basketball with Austin Rivers", they'd have been recruiting Austin Rivers himself. This isn't to say that these FGCU kids aren't talented—in fact, they are. I've been amazed by what these guys have done, and it's no fluke. I can't wait to watch them continue their run tomorrow night against Florida (late game, eh, CBS? I see what you did there...), and I hope they take this thing all the way to Atlanta for the Final Four.


But to pretend as though FGCU was some sleeping giant—with tons of top talent that nobody bothered to talk about—obscures the real lessons that we could be learning here. Namely, that a coach and a team playing incredibly well as a unit while having fun and playing with reckless abandon can do some pretty special things on a basketball court (and that the NCAA probably screwed up a bit with this year's seeding of the tournament). Not to mention, this isn't exactly a unique story in recent years—George Mason, VCU, and Butler all preceded (and exceeded) FGCU in this regard. Sure, FGCU reaching the Final Four would be unbelievable, and I'm certainly rooting for it, but we're not there yet.

When a big sports story like this one comes along, a lot of bad journalism is bound to be written, so this particular article is hardly a surprise. I just wish that, for once, we could all just enjoy an awesome story on its own merits, without having to draw some bigger (nonsensical) lesson about it all. Unfortunately, that's just not what we in the internet age like to do.

[Deadspin]

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sergio Garcia is a weird dude

This post will be one of those "quick-hitters" that I mentioned in my welcome-back post earlier today. Just thought I'd put that out there in advance, in case you were wondering (I should also mention that "Clip of the Week" and "Quote of the Week" are being done away with, at least in their traditional formats—if I come across a clip or a quotation that's share-worthy, I'll share it immediately without further comment, rather than waiting for the prescribed time. Okay, good talk.)

Either way, we need to talk about this shot, played yesterday down at Arnold Palmer's tournament at Bay Hill (which Tiger won, which puts him back as the world #1, and all credit goes to Lindsey Vonn, because why not). Sergio Garcia, everybody:



The shot itself is obviously impressive enough, and I give Sergio huge credit for even trying it. But it's the context of the shot that makes it most noteworthy in my eyes. Because after playing this shot, Sergio badly chunked his next shot, made a double-bogey on the hole, and then walked off the course and withdrew from the tournament 2 holes later, with only 6 holes left to play. He cited nagging injury problems, injuries that were apparently exacerbated by the (odd) decision to climb a tree and play the shot this way rather than just taking an unplayable lie. Weird dude, man. Weird dude.

But also, as a long-time golfer and fan of the game, I have to wonder: why was he allowed to climb on top of a golf cart in order to get up into the tree? If you follow the game at all, you'll know that golf is full of all sorts of obscure, bizarre, and outdated rules that generally continue to pretend that golf is being played in the 19th century where electricity and television don't exist, and that there's nothing but a man and a golf course out there, relying on his own honor and that of his playing partners.

If you don't believe me, ask Craig Stadler or Dustin Johnson or this guy or really any of the guys on this brutal list. Or just go back and read this post or this post, some of the first work that I ever produced for this blog. Golf rules are nutso. Period, end of story.

And so, if Craig Stadler can be DQ'd from a tournament for kneeling on a towel, and if golfers can be routinely disqualified for signing scorecards that have the wrong numbers on them, even though TV cameras (and ShotTracker representatives) have followed their every move, to the inch, and therefore everyone in the world knows exactly what everyone's score is... then why is Sergio allowed to receive "assistance" from a golf cart that just happens to be sitting there? Isn't that an unnatural advantage? If he can use the cart to stand on, then why can't he use it to ride around the course from shot to shot (pipe down, Casey Martin)? Why can't we give a guy a ladder or a rake or a scuba suit to help him play his next shot? It's weird, no?

Golf rules baffle me. So does Sergio Garcia. But this shot was still awesome, no matter how you cut it.

On the importance of Excel

Four years ago, when global markets were going completely haywire, one of the more important events that helped "turn things around" was FASB's relaxation of mark-to-market accounting standards, a decision that allowed banks to value many of their "distressed" assets based on, basically, whatever their internal models said they were worth. We can argue all day about the long-term costs and benefits of this decision (as you might imagine, I'm pretty aggressively negative on the decision), but ultimately the short-term impact was to place a significant amount of the world's financial stability on the shoulders of one computer program—Microsoft Excel.

We'll turn things over to Baseline Scenario's James Kwak for some more color on the topic (all emphasis mine):
I spent the past two days at a financial regulation conference in Washington... In his remarks on the final panel, Frank Partnoy mentioned something I missed when it came out a few weeks ago: the role of Microsoft Excel in the “London Whale” trading debacle (note: read more about it here)...
To summarize: JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office needed a new value-at-risk (VaR) model for the synthetic credit portfolio (the one that blew up) and assigned a quantitative whiz (“a London-based quantitative expert, mathematician and model developer” who previously worked at a company that built analytical models) to create it. The new model “operated through a series of Excel spreadsheets, which had to be completed manually, by a process of copying and pasting data from one spreadsheet to another.”
The internal Model Review Group identified this problem as well as a few others, but approved the model, while saying that it should be automated and another significant flaw should be fixed. After the London Whale trade blew up, the Model Review Group discovered that the model had not been automated and found several other errors. Most spectacularly,
“After subtracting the old rate from the new rate, the spreadsheet divided by their sum instead of their average, as the modeler had intended. This error likely had the effect of muting volatility by a factor of two and of lowering the VaR ...”
Microsoft Excel is one of the greatest, most powerful, most important software applications of all time... it provides enormous capacity to do quantitative analysis, letting you do anything from statistical analyses of databases with hundreds of thousands of records to complex estimation tools with user-friendly front ends. And unlike traditional statistical programs, it provides an intuitive interface that lets you see what happens to the data as you manipulate them.
As a consequence, Excel is everywhere you look in the business world—especially in areas where people are adding up numbers a lot, like marketing, business development, sales, and, yes, finance...
But while Excel the program is reasonably robust, the spreadsheets that people create with Excel are incredibly fragile. There is no way to trace where your data come from, there’s no audit trail (so you can overtype numbers and not know it), and there’s no easy way to test spreadsheets, for starters. The biggest problem is that anyone can create Excel spreadsheets—badly. Because it’s so easy to use, the creation of even important spreadsheets is not restricted to people who understand programming and do it in a methodical, well-documented way.
This is why the JPMorgan VaR model is the rule, not the exception: manual data entry, manual copy-and-paste, and formula errors. This is another important reason why you should pause whenever you hear that banks’ quantitative experts are smarter than Einstein, or that sophisticated risk management technology can protect banks from blowing up. At the end of the day, it’s all software. While all software breaks occasionally, Excel spreadsheets break all the time. But they don’t tell you when they break: they just give you the wrong number.
Yikes. As Kwak later points out, this is likely a systematic problem, and not just an unfortunate one-time mistake. If the modeler's error had served to increase the amount of risk at the end of the day, then the mistake no doubt would have been caught, since it would have affected the bank's bottom line. But because senior executives and traders were explicitly hoping for a model that underestimated the risk profile of their portfolios, the "mistake" here went unnoticed and uncorrected, which is so absurd that it's almost comical.


If a mortgage officer at a small regional bank made a similar mistake—say, inadvertently doubling the annual income number for a loan applicant, and then approving said applicant for a number of low-interest loans—that officer would undoubtedly be fired at the end of the day. But here, at JPMorgan, we have a guy who made a similar error on a much larger scale, with much riskier assets and a whole lot more money on the line, and the whole world shrugs its shoulders and goes on about its business. That's scary.

What are some of the other bank models out there telling us about banks' risk profiles and the strength of their capital bases? Should we expect those models to be any better than this one? I suspect not, and I think the (over)reliance on Excel will likely lead us to some very negative outcomes down the line. Of course, as I've said before, this doesn't mean that we should blame the model if and when things go horribly wrong—models, at the end of the day, are only as good as the people who write (and monitor) them. Instead, we need to start blaming the people who write and implement these models, and then holding them accountable for their errors.

[Baseline Scenario]

Getting back at it

Hey, folks. As you may have noticed (and I certainly hope you have), it's been quite a while since my last post up here. I've been busy with work and family obligations, and I've also been battling a variety of annoying little illnesses that have sapped my usual energy (come on, winter, cut the crap). But most of all, I just felt like I really needed a break from blogging.

In recent months, I haven't felt as though my posts have been of the caliber that I expect from myself, and too often I was throwing something up here just to say that I had produced something, out of a sense of duty. As a result, I kept pounding away at a lot of the same story lines, and the good, in-depth, original content that I take pride in creating (stuff like this and this and this and this) was becoming ever more scarce. This blog deserves better than that, and so I took a bit of a hiatus to recharge my batteries and reconsider the future direction of the Crimson Cavalier.

To answer the first obvious question: no, the Crimson Cavalier is not dead. Not hardly. But I will be posting less frequently than I used to—instead of 1-2 posts daily, expect more like 3-5 posts weekly, with a few quick-hitters (with minimal added analysis) sprinkled in along the way. As a trade-off, though, at least once a week, I intend to write a longer-form post about a topic that I think is interesting and important. Yes, some of these topics—like 3-D printing, say, or public debt dynamics—will be familiar, but I'll try not to beat any of them into the ground unless the news flow commands that I do so. Ultimately, expect more quality than quantity, with the same point of view that you've come to expect from me.

Somewhat ironically, this blog hiatus coincided with a very big moment for the blog, as I started coming across some of my own original content on other people's blogs. Last year, you may remember me welcoming March Madness with a mock-up of Simpsons characters to represent the various Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) teams (an amendment by me of an idea that I'd seen elsewhere). I was pretty proud of my Photoshop work at the time, and now it seems like the Simpsonization of collegiate athletics has become a bit of an internet meme.


I first found my work posted, quite by accident, by a friend of mine on Facebook. I laughed and thought it was an isolated incident, but then, later that week, I found this blog post on SB Nation, with my ACC work buried amidst the other conferences. It was a very strange moment for me, as my heart swelled with something approximating pride. In my own humble opinion, I think my fitting of the characters to the schools is better than most efforts on there, but I digress—I have to say that the SEC one is a particularly awesome piece of work.

Either way, hooray for the Crimson Cavalier! I'm semi-internet-famous now. Now, with my batteries re-charged, I hope I can get back to doing what I do best. I hope you'll all still be here to witness it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Quote of the Week (Outsourcing edition)

My efforts to slowly work down my backlog of drafts in the queue continues with your Quote of the Week. Yes, this article is a few weeks old, but that doesn't make it any more awesome. Kudos to this guy, slow claps all around.

This week's QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"A security audit of a US critical infrastructure company last year revealed that its star developer had outsourced his own job to a Chinese subcontractor and was spending all his work time playing around on the internet. The firm's telecommunications supplier Verizon was called in after the company set up a basic VPN system with two-factor authentication so staff could work at home. The VPN traffic logs showed a regular series of logins to the company's main server from Shenyang, China, using the credentials of the firm's top programmer, 'Bob'... 

After getting permission to study Bob's computer habits, Verizon investigators found that he had hired a software consultancy in Shenyang to do his programming work for him, and had FedExed them his two-factor authentication token so they could log into his account. He was paying them a fifth of his six-figure salary to do the work and spent the rest of his time on other activities."
                                                          - Iain Thompson, The Register

That is awesome. I can't exactly blame the company for letting Bob go, especially since he exposed the fact that he was apparently being overpaid by a factor of five. But if a company can outsource a job to China, why can't the employee do it himself? That's the kind of creativity this country needs! Bravo, Bob.

 [The Register]


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The new music world

If you're sensing a bit of a theme here today, there's a reason for that—the majority of my backlog of posts consisted of updates to previous topics that I hadn't revisited in a while. In this post, I'm going to write an update on the ever-changing music industry, to discuss some recent developments. From the New York Times,
A decade after Apple revolutionized the music world with its iTunes store, the music industry is undergoing another, even more radical, digital transformation as listeners begin to move from CDs and downloads to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. 
As purveyors of legally licensed music, they have been largely welcomed by an industry still buffeted by piracy. But as the companies behind these digital services swell into multibillion-dollar enterprises, the relative trickle of money that has made its way to artists is causing anxiety at every level of the business. 
Late last year, Zoe Keating, an independent musician from Northern California, provided an unusually detailed case in point. In voluminous spreadsheets posted to her Tumblr blog, she revealed the royalties she gets from various services, down to the ten-thousandth of a cent. 
Even for an under-the-radar artist like Ms. Keating, who describes her style as “avant cello,” the numbers painted a stark picture of what it is like to be a working musician these days. After her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play.
In general, it's a little bit hard to know whether to consider this a good thing or a bad thing, for the artists or the consumers. What's certainly clear is that we're moving toward a model where recorded music is little more than an advertisement for the artists, who will make the majority (if not all) of their money from live performances and touring.

Realistically, this is how the music industry has always effectively worked, with a select few exceptions. Recall this graphic, from my previous blog post about the Dave Matthews Band, which has likely set the model for the future of the music industry:


I certainly sympathize with those artists who are unable to make enough from live performances to support themselves, but I also find it unlikely that those artists would realistically be able to sell enough physical music to support themselves, either, under any economic arrangement or business model.

I generally assume that consumers of music have only a set amount of disposable income available to spend on their music, and that performers should generally want them to spend as much of that money as possible on the thing that nets them the greatest share of the money—that thing, always, has been live performances, and therefore the less money spent by consumers on physical music, the better. Maybe that's the wrong assumption to make, and consumers really will destroy the music industry with their choices, but I have serious trouble decrying the decline of the record label model. It was never a good deal for the artists, regardless of what some of them may think.

[New York Times]
(h/t Marginal Revolution)

FIFA and Qatar update

Here's another update on a topic that I haven't discussed here in a while—FIFA embarrassing itself. If it seemed a little weird to anybody that Qatar was announced as the host nation for the 2022 World Cup, then... oh, let's be serious here, we all knew what was going on already, didn't we?
FIFA vice-president Michel Platini has defended his decision to vote for Qatar as 2022 World Cup host after a magazine in his native France alleged collusion among state and football leaders. 
"I reserve the right to sue anyone who questions my integrity in this vote," Platini, who is president of European governing body UEFA, said in a statement on Tuesday. 
Platini responded after France Football magazine published a 15-page cover story article titled Le Qatargate examining the Qatar World Cup project. 
The magazine detailed a November 2010 dinner in Paris at then-president Nicolas Sarkozy's official residence, attended by Platini and Qatar's crown prince, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. 
There, Sarkozy allegedly pressured Platini for political reasons to switch allegiance from the United States bid to Qatar in the FIFA vote nine days later, France Football suggested.
Platini is steadfast in his denials, but of course he is. Sarkozy, for his part, is currently under investigation in France for various violations (including illegal campaign financing), so it's clear that this whole situation is just one giant mess. Good times, go USA.

[Sydney Morning Herald]


Cheers to a marathon legend

A while back, I wrote about marathon runner Fauja Singh, who set a world record in 2011 by becoming the oldest man (and first centenarian) to complete a marathon. Now, it seems that the miles have taken their toll on our old friend, and he's finally hanging them up.
Say goodbye to our very old friend Fauja Singh, the 101-year-old marathon man dubbed the “Turbaned Tornado” who gave us 12 years of incredibly slow but consistent inspiration. He’s finally admitted that age has caught up to him and he will retire from competitive running after the Hong Kong Marathon on February 24th. 
This doesn’t mean he’s going to stop running, though. Oh no. Far from it. Says Singh: “Running is my life. I will keep running to inspire the masses. I will keep running for at least four hours daily after that.”
Man, good for him. As I said when I first wrote about Singh, I'll be happy to make it to age 101, let alone be running marathons at that age. Here's one last shout out to a distance running legend.

[NBC Sports]


Colleges suing students?

Wow, alright, I am drowning in a pile of unfinished blog drafts over here. I have a total of 14 unfinished posts  in my queue just from the last week, so I'm just gonna go ahead and post a few of them, rapid-fire style, just to get some of this stuff out there. You might get a little less of my ranting and raving in these posts than you'd usually expect, but maybe that's a good thing. And hey, it's better than another link dump, right?

First up, I'll consider this post to be an update on the burgeoning student loan crisis about which I've written numerous times. Per Bloomberg,
Needy U.S. borrowers are defaulting on almost $1 billion in federal student loans earmarked for the poor, leaving schools such as Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania with little choice except to sue their graduates. 
The record defaults on federal Perkins loans may jeopardize the prospects of current students since they are part of a revolving fund that colleges give to students who show extraordinary financial hardship. 
Yale, Penn and George Washington University have all sued former students over nonpayment, court records show. While no one tracks the number of lawsuits, students defaulted on $964 million in Perkins loans in the year ended June 2011, 20 percent more than five years earlier, government data show. Unlike most student loans -- distributed and collected by the federal government -- Perkins loans are administered by colleges, which use repayment money to lend to other poor students. 
The increase in the amount of defaulted loans among poor students comes as President Barack Obama says he wants to expand access to college for working-class families and increase funding for the Perkins program. Under his proposal, the pot for Perkins loans would increase to $8.5 billion from about $1 billion. The Education Department would service the loans instead of colleges.
Oh, this is gonna be fun... leave it to Yale, right? As is mentioned later in the article, student loan debt has soared in the last several years (total debt outstanding now exceeds $1 trillion, more than our nation's aggregate credit card debt), as tuition costs have gone nowhere but up in a world flush with government-guaranteed debt.

As Karl Denninger writes (okay, rants),
Let's cut the crap -- colleges market themselves to young men and women on the premise that their educational services will provide you a means to get a better job than you would otherwise obtain.  That's the entire purpose of a career-focused education and the only justification for the outrageous tuition charges they assess. 
Well, as it turns out if you fail to benefit from the alleged "education" that these people sold you, and in the process you borrowed money using Perkins loans, the college is very likely to come after you, including in court! 
Oh, and lest you think they'll just sue to the principal and accrued interest, nope. 
As I've pointed out to a number of High Schoolers contemplating going to college and taking out loans, there are statutory penalties that apply if you default.  In the case of Perkins loans these amount to an additional 30% of the principal, increasing to 40% on a second collection attempt and another 40% on top of that if they sue. 
That basically doubles the amount you owe. 
Of course colleges don't talk about this before you matriculate.  After all, "education" as offered in these edifices is only partial, and the representations, both expressed and implied are many -- but the warranties few.
Yikes. The implications of the student loan crisis could well be far-reaching, and it's a dynamic that we'll need to keep our eye on over the next few years, because a lot of these institutions are proving to be ruthless when it comes time to collect payment.

In the meantime, I'm hoping we see some guts from the students who are being sued—let's see a countersuit from the unemployed (or underemployed) college graduates against their colleges and universities, alleging fraudulent marketing and failure to deliver on the promises made. The suits may have little merit, but I think it's the lender's (and not the borrower's) responsibility to determine the creditworthiness of the borrower. If they made bad loans to bad students, they should be forced to pay the price. That's how loans are supposed to work, period.

[Bloomberg]
[Market Ticker]


Friday, February 1, 2013

The definitive NFL fan base map (LOLJets)

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, there's no shortage of football-related stories bouncing around. Most of them are utter nonsense, but thanks to Deadspin and the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, we've actually got one pretty fun study to dive into. Yes, this is more sports nerdness, so jump on board.

Using data culled from Facebook, those good folks were able to put together (and then study) a map showing which NFL teams were the most popular (or most "liked") in each county throughout the nation. That enabled us to see, once and for all, what each team's "fan base" really looked like, geographically speaking. Courtesy of Deadspin, here is that map:


While there aren't too many big surprises there (although Alaska is downright bizarre, including a strange patch of Bills fans in the middle of the state), one thing did jump out at me pretty immediately—where the hell are the Jets fans? Oh, there they are... no, not that big green blob that includes southern New Jersey and Delaware—that's Eagles territory. No, it's that little sliver right on the western end of Long Island, comprising basically one county.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the Jets don't have any fans—it just means there isn't any one area in which they're the dominant team, since they're overwhelmed by Giants fans throughout the New York metropolitan area. In fact, the Jets still check in with the 14th-largest fan base according to the study, despite having no real sphere of dominance. Thanks to the HCSAC people, we have the full breakdown for you as well:


Looking closer at this list, it's pretty clear that winning matters, which shouldn't surprise us. The top 3 teams in terms of fan base also happen to be the top 3 teams in terms of historical Super Bowl appearances—the Cowboys and Steelers have 8, the Patriots have 7. And of the top 12 teams on that list, 9 of them have won multiple Super Bowl titles (only the Saints, Bears, and Eagles have not).

Finally, as the HCSAC folks point out, each team that has won a Super Bowl in the last 9 years currently has more than 1.5 million fans, placing them in the top quarter of the league—since both the 49ers and Ravens currently sit on the outside of that top quartile, it'll be interesting to see what kind of fan base jump they may get by winning this weekend.

All in all, the fan base map jives pretty well with our intuitions—the "New England" Patriots moniker is apt, since all of New England minus a small corner of Connecticut leans toward the Pats (they're also big in Canada, and in the U.K.); the Cowboys dominate a huge portion of the country; and Los Angeles, lacking a team, still seems largely to pull for the Raiders, perhaps pining for the olden days. And despite a brief period of dominance at the turn of the century, the Rams can't seem to secure a fan base, nor can the ever-stumbling Jacksonville Jaguars.

Also, the league's fan base continues to skew toward the northern and eastern parts of the country—I ran the numbers to figure out the total numbers of fans by division, and came up with the following:


The East and North divisions make up the top four, combining for more than 65% of the total Facebook fans. Granted, that's aided in large part by the geographical oddity of the Cowboys being in the "East" division, but even if you were to swap the Cowboys with, say, the Rams, you'd still be looking at a 56.2% edge in favor of the North and East versus the South and West. I think it's interesting that the breakdown is in many ways the opposite of what you might expect to see in college football, where the SEC dominates everything—it's possible, if not likely, that the NCAA is pulling share away from the NFL (and the poor Jaguars) in that region.

As one final note, there are some teams who are simply dominant (in terms of fan support) within their divisions—the Steelers boast 64.8% of the total AFC North fans, followed by the Saints with 60.7% of the NFC South, the Colts with 56.8% of the AFC South, and the Patriots with 52.9% of the AFC East. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Bills (6.9% of AFC East), Jaguars (9.0% of AFC South), Bengals (9.4% of AFC North), and Redskins (10% of NFC East).

But getting back to this weekend, in case you were wondering what the "fan base" breakdown looks like if you consider only the Super Bowl participants, we've got that for you, too. Once again from Deadspin:


Clearly, the nation is leaning heavily toward the 49ers, which is unsurprising given that they've got almost 30% more total Facebook fans than do the Ravens. I apparently should have split allegiances, given that my hometown of Boston is red and my current home state of Virginia is painted purple. Good prediction, in fact—I literally do not care who wins this weekend. Good talk. Enjoy the game.

[Deadspin]
[Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective]

Clip of the Week

I've got 4 or 5 posts that I'm hoping to publish today, but realistically I'll be happy with 2 or 3. We'll start with your Clip of the Week, because that's always good times.

There were a couple of oldie-but-goodie clips that popped back onto my radar this week, and they definitely gave the new clips a run for their money. There was this compilation of the top 10 luckiest golf shots (stick around for #1, it's a doozy), and also this strange collection of Japanese ballplayers doing the bat-flip after home runs, which is apparently a thing over there. Oddly mesmerizing.

But I'm still going to go with the new stuff this week. We had this awesome save by the Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen (yes, hockey is back, but I'm sure you already knew that), and also Jimmy Fallon and Brian Williams slow-jamming the debt ceiling (which was excellent).

But none of these clips held a candle to the awesomest little puppy in the world, a pitbull named Bandit. Little guy just wants to get in some treadmill work, help a brother out, right? I'm sure we can all relate to this pup's uphill battle. Keep up the good work, Bandit, you're this week's Clip of the Week.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Quote of the Week (Czech edition)

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about how I was still proud to be an American, because the beer is cheap and plentiful. That is still a glorious fact. Nevertheless, I am at least considering the alternative of moving to Prague, where the median income may be lower, but the beer prices are too. Diving right in...

This week's QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"At a typical local pub, a pint—500 milliliters, actually, in this metric-measuring country—costs about $1. A similar portion of water, juice or soda generally costs twice as much. Offering free tap water as at U.S. eateries is extremely rare. At U Zelenku, a neighborhood institution for more than a century, for instance, a pint of the cheapest beer goes for 99 cents. The same size of soda water is $1.30. At the fancier Kolkovna restaurant in touristy Old Town, a pint is $2.50, while mineral water is $2.29, for a bottle less than half the size."
                                      - Sean Carney; Wall Street Journal

This dynamic isn't exactly new to me, as I experienced a similar economic curiosity in my trip to Italy a couple of years ago—the house wine carafes (vino della casa) sold for prices around €3.50 (about $5) for a half-liter. That's not quite cheaper than water, but it was certainly in the same ballpark as the soft drinks at many restaurants. Wine for lunch, it is, then...


Of course, there's always a risk to looking only at the price of one product and trying to determine anything meaningful about the overall state of the economy. Beer prices alone are meaningless, for example, without also knowing what typical food prices might be—it could be that in Prague, general business practice is to slash the prices of booze, and to attempt to make the money on the food instead (as I've previously argued, the opposite seems to be the case in many U.S. restaurants). Or there may be dozens of other factors at play, all of which help drive down the cost of beer in restaurants.

Either way, who wants to go on a Czech pub crawl with me? First pilsner is on me.

[Wall Street Journal]
(h/t Tyler Cowen)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Clip of the Week

Let's sneak the Clip of the Week in here before the weekend, then hopefully I'll have some more good stuff coming your way next week.

There's not all that much to share this week, but what we do have here is pure gold. It's also all from the world of sports. First, let's welcome back the NHL (the what? Hockey? Never heard of it...) with this video of a couple of Edmonton Oiler rookies doing something that is way more difficult than they make it look.

Next up, baseball lost a couple of legends this past week, when a pair of Hall of Famers—Stan Musial and Earl Weaver—died mere hours apart. No, this may not have been quite as dramatic as July 4, 1826, but it's about as close as it gets in baseball land. I always felt a certain strange kinship with Weaver, in large part because he was one of only a few sports figures with whom I shared a birthday (Magic Johnson was another, Tim Tebow copied me a few years later). He was also a bitter, foul-mouthed old man with a beautifully sarcastic wit (and a code of ethics), and so... yeah. We had some things in common.

I wish there were more Earl Weavers around, is what I'm really trying to say. So if you're into managers cursing up a storm, enjoy some of Weaver's best hits, here and here. Be warned that these clips are both extremely unsafe for work environments, so proceed with caution. Unless you're a major league manager, in which case, carry on. My apologies to Stan the Man—he, too, was a baseball legend, but this clip just isn't nearly as entertaining as Weaver's best. Sorry, man. Better luck next time.

But ultimately, none of those is your Clip of the Week. Instead, courtesy of the Red Cowboy comes this clip from the HGTV show "Million Dollar Rooms". It's the backyard of legendary golf coach Dave Pelz, and it's sick. If you're a golf fan, you'll recognize some familiar sights back there. It's like a golf version of Las Vegas, in one man's backyard. Crazy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Quote of the Week (Japan Edition)

I wanted to pull this week's Quote of the Week from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Q&A on Reddit last week, I really, really did. The concept of 1,000 duck-sized Predators is just too great to not mention, and I couldn't get that mental image out of my head all week. Brilliant stuff.

But I decided instead to give the honor to Japan's new Finance Minister (their 11th since 2007!) Taro Aso, whose brutal bout of honesty this week added a neat little twist onto Japan's growing fiscal problems (and demographic nightmare). In a statement that is almost certainly intended directly for the ears of Jiroemon Kimura, the oldest man in recorded history, Aso uttered a phrase (well, a few of them, really) that you might end up hearing a lot of around the world over the coming decades...

This week's QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Taro Aso said on Monday that the elderly should be allowed to 'hurry up and die' to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care.

'Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,' he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. 'The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.'

Aso's comments are likely to cause offence in Japan, where almost a quarter of the 128 million population is aged over 60. The proportion is forecast to rise to 40% over the next 50 years.

To compound the insult, he referred to elderly patients who are no longer able to feed themselves as 'tube people'. The health and welfare ministry, he added, was 'well aware that it costs several tens of millions of yen' a month to treat a single patient in the final stages of life."
                                                     - Justin McCurry; Guardian

So, first of all, it needs to be said that this dude is completely off his rocker. If you read Mish Shedlock's whole piece, you'll see that Aso has previously made bizarre off-color remarks about Jews, Taiwanese, and blue-eyed U.S. diplomats, so clearly he has a habit of saying outlandish things to provoke a reaction (sort of like another economist we all know and love).

That said, this little moment of honesty might hit just a little close to home for all of us here in America. Our Medicare costs are already projected to go through the roof over the coming decades, in large part because we continue to refuse to have difficult conversations about end-of-life care (specifically, how much is it worth to keep somebody alive for an extra year at age 65, versus at age 75, versus at age 85? Is there an infinite value? A declining value? Do we even begin to know?).


We can choose to spend an infinite amount of money to keep a person (any person) alive for another day, and hospitals and doctors will surely be glad to dispense those services as long as somebody (i.e. the taxpayer) is willing to pay. But sooner or later, we simply can't afford to do so for everybody, and we have to have that difficult little conversation with each other. Japan is having it now; it's coming our way sooner than you might think.

[Mish Shedlock]

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Smart highways

I feel like I might have posted about these things before, but given my past blog posts on the topic, I figured it was worth sharing either way. Via Barry Ritholtz comes a quick summary of these so-called "smart" highways, which are scheduled to debut in the Netherlands later this year. Pretty cool stuff.

From their own fact sheet (with some funky translations):
Smart Highway are interactive and sustainable roads of today. Designer Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure are developing new designs and technologies for this Route 66 of the future. 
New designs include the ‘Glow-in-the-Dark Road’, ‘Dynamic Paint’, ‘Interactive Light’, ‘Induction Priority Lane’ and ‘Wind Light’. The goal is to make roads which are more sustainable and interactive by using light, energy and road signs that automatically adapt to the traffic situation. 
Awarded with a Best Future Concept by the Dutch Design Awards 2012 the first meters Smart Highway will be realized mid 2013 in the Netherlands. 
The "Dynamic Paint" design, for example, puts designs on the road that will change based on temperature and general road conditions, to better inform drivers of what to expect. And the "Induction Priority Lane" has induction coils underneath the surface, which can allow electric cars to recharge their batteries as they drive on them.

Here's a short video showing what these guys are doing, and what's possible.


Futuristic highways glow in the dark by Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans from Daan Roosegaarde on Vimeo.

While this still seems like pretty crude and early-stage technology, I think it's a good step toward being more creative with how we think about our roads and their functions. The days of having a piezoelectric national highway system that powers the cars that drive on it may not be so far away, after all.

More nerd humor

I'm working on a few posts for later today (and later this week), but until I've got those ready to roll, I thought I'd share some more excellent nerd humor that I've come across lately. First, from the always brilliant nerds over at XKCD:


And second, from imgur, courtesy of my man Killagroove:


Yup, it's a big Wednesday around here. More coming your way later today... I think.