Friday, July 25, 2008

Why I Dislike Escalators

Have you ever walked down or up a broken escalator? It can be dizzying. Additionally, I don't feel that escalators are really that convenient or efficient in terms of the amount of energy they waste, as they are constantly running, and they really don't see much human action on a Tuesday afternoon at the mall.

Also, how many calories are not being burned when you take the escalator instead of the stairs?

The late comedian, Mitch Hedberg, summed up escalators the best with this quote:
An escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. You would never see an "Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order" sign, just "Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What's up with the weather, man?

Here is a place where the incentive system is completely screwed up: The Weather!

The so-called meteorologist or weatherman on the local news can get the weather wrong, two or three days in a row...and they are never held accountable.

Maybe we need better incentives such as: you get the weather wrong twice in a week, then you are denied some pay.

Make it a performance-based system. Is there really a way to cheat when it comes to predicting the weather?

Not unless you can pull a "Back to the Future Part II," when Marty McFly buys the Sports Almanac in the future to take back to 1985.

Addendum: I was angry and frustrated this day because I wanted to go to the Zoo. I am sorry to all weatherman for any inconvenience from my crusade against you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Caveat Emptor: The high price of a New York City concert

Pearl Jam put on their best New York area show in a long time at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday June 25, 2008. They came out strong opening the show with "Release," which led to a massive MSG sing-along. Eddie Vedder later led the band through some rare treats such as "Garden" and "I'm Open."

The three main highlights for me were:

  1. "I Believe in Miracles" featuring CJ Ramone rocking the bass guitar!
  2. Eddie Vedder giving a shout out to the recently retired Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers followed by "Let's Go Rangers" chants.
  3. And finally the performance of Kiss's "Black Diamond" with Space Ace Frehley on lead guitar and drummer Matt Cameron on the vox.

Pearl Jam still puts on one of the best live rock shows out there. It's the type of concert where you never want the band to stop playing, even after a solid 2 hours 45 minutes of Rock godliness.

Now were all these treats really worth the money?

My ticket ran me $100 on the secondary market (Stubhub);
Train ticket with Metrocard came to $17;
Food/Drinks prior to the show $75 (Houlihans in Penn Station - absolute ripoff for one greasy appetizer and 4 drinks in my opinion);
Total monetary cost of $192.

I would have been willing to spend up to $200 for my ticket alone so I made out well. I guess ticket prices are not that high after all.

But what if Ace Frehly and CJ Ramone did not show up to the show? Then I probably would have only been willing to spend $100 per ticket, and it would not have been worth it for me.

This has been a major issue for me; The ticket sellers (ticketmaster/stubhub) do not offer any satisfaction guarantee.

The Stone Temple Pilots concert at PNC Bank Arts Center on May 31 was awful. The lead singer showed up over an hour late and put on a disgusting performance. Aren't I entitled to at least a partial refund?

Unpredictability of prices

I recently played the classic "$5 auction" game in class to introduce game theory to my students. I like doing this game in two rounds; One round without collusion and one with collusion.

Round 1: First I tell the students that I will give the $5 bill to the highest bid which is submitted on a piece of scrap paper with their name on it. Students are not allowed to talk (collude) during the bidding process. Next I read the bids to the class and give the $5 away to the highest bidder.

Round 2: Then I tell the class I want to give away more money. I tell the students to write down their bids, but that I also have to talk to some teacher down the hall, leaving the room for a few minutes (hopefully the class sees this signal to collude/cheat at this point.) When I come back I read the bids then give away the money to the highest bidder. Finally, class discussion of what happened during the game springs us into game theory.

I played this game in three different AP Microeconomics classes this year and ended up with bizarre outcomes. I actually made 4 cents in the first class, $6 in the second class, and lost $4 in the third class. After the game, we discussed what the logical outcomes to the game should have been. One class was too tired to realize that when I left the room, they should have cheated.

Even though the game had some irrational outcomes, it did show the unpredictability of behavior within a cartel or colluding oligopoly.

In the end, this teacher made $2.04 (Sweet!)

Entry from the Best of 'Just Enjoy the Show'

When 'dumbing down' is a substitute for 'understandable'

Oops, I upset someone on Marginal Revolution for using "dumbing down" to describe the content of Freakonomics and Discover.
"Meds, I'm not sure "dumbing down" and making understandable are the same thing. In fact, I am certain they're not. Can you understand having the flu without knowing how a virus invades your cells? Probably. One thing I like about these books and this blog are that the specialists don't withhold knowledge with the belief that the unwashed masses are incapable of understanding. Even with a shallow understanding, I suspect the layman is better off understanding something of economics rather than nothing at all."

I replied (using a silly economic principle, of course):

"...Good teachers need to make the subject matter (I don't care what it happens to be) interesting and understandable. That sometimes means getting rid of fancy terminology (due to overblown egos/narcissism/inability to teach) and the calculus (why I enjoy Levitt). In some cases the lousy professor's view of "dumbing down" and making something "understandable" could be substituted.

Oops, I said "substituted," Econ 101 time: If the price of saying "dumbing down" increases then demand for "understandable" increases. Therefore, I will use "understandable" in the future, unless of course there is a change in expectations.

I told you I was a junkie for "understandable" books explaining the basic economic principles."

Entry from the Best of 'Just Enjoy the Show'

Freakonomics, Naturalist, Discover...Which does it the best?

There have been so many books in the style of Freakonomics released over the last 5 years---meaning very readable and enjoyable economic applications for the individual that knows absolutely nothing about the dismal social science.

Discover Your Inner Economist
by Tyler Cowen, The Economic Naturalist by Robert H. Frank, and Unsafe Sex is Safer Sex by Steven Landsburg are just a few examples.

Obviously Freakonomics was not the first, but it certainly introduced and/or renewed a large interest in basic "101 economic" principles (in the blog-age).

So my questions is: Who does it the best?

Currently, I am leaning towards Levitt and Dubner for their fun factor, application of the principles (I love how there is no calculus), intelligent style, and it is an easy read even for my high school students that haven't yet taken AP Economics.

Entry from the Best of 'Just Enjoy the Show'

Ultimatum Game

I played the "Ultimatum Game" at a teacher's conference last year, except we only used 20 bucks in the game. I did something that seemed completely irrational and offered the other person $18 leaving only $2 for myself. Of course they accepted the offer, and everyone in the room thought I was an idiot (I am, but not because of that).

I explained that I wanted to make a random stranger happy and that was worth the $18 to me, but not $20. The reason I gave for keeping the $2 was so I could take the subway back to Grand Central Station.

Since the stakes in this game were so low I was willing to reverse what the article was explaining on fair deals. Additionally, I really just wanted to see if I could mess up the game's aim and confuse everybody, to simulate the average Econ student's participation.

So it really was not an irrational economic decision.