Further assorted links

by on February 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The internet as a driver of cognitive inequality?

2. Is Duck Duck Go a better search engine?

3. The collapse of EU emissions trading.

4. How to mobilize a bureaucratic glitch against yourself, and the demand for vanity license plates.

5. Angus on the Fed.

Mark Thorson February 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Here’s a web page reporting experimental tesats on search engines:
http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/searchengines.html

Ted Craig February 18, 2012 at 9:34 am

Interesting that better doesn’t mean more popular.

Paul February 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

This web site rates search engines according to how high they rate itself. Not quite double blind, that.

Sigivald February 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm

As a database and computer guy, #4 just reinforces the dictum that you should never use magic values that can be real data.

If the State is going to issue vanity plates, the system needs to be made such that no possible vanity plate is some Magic Code That Means Some Other Thing.

Either use a proper database/entry system or scrap the plates.

Daniel Dostal February 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm

This is why null values are a good thing.

Willitts February 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm

This makes for an interesting legal case. He would have a cause of action against the ticket issuers, but DC does have the legal authority to revoke his plates. It’s a shameful infringement on speech just to cover the ass of petty bureaucrats, but no one has a right to vanity plates.

In Illinois, vanity and personalized plates are only slightly more expensive than regular plates, so many people have them. Even if you qualify for reduced-rate plates because of age or disability, you can still get vanity plates at a discount. How sick is that? You’re too poor to afford the full price, but they’ll allow you to pay $13 more for vanity plates.

I have a theory that it’s easier for people to identify and remember vanity plates, so law enforcement and the state prefer the plates. It makes it easier to catch criminals and impose citations.

I’d like to get the vanity plate WVVWVW so few people would be able to see it and remember it as I drove by. Of course it would help if someone else had VWWVWV, preferably a 2010 Camry. :)

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 1:42 am

I doubt it matters to Law Enforcement. Consider the percent of Vanity Plates issued; what’s the probability that out of all vehicular crimes committed one was a vanity plate?

Jan February 18, 2012 at 7:46 am

It’s a great idea for trying to get out of tickets for speeding illegally or parking in a handicapped spot, but I think most states have a prohibition on confusing and offensive plates.

I’d guess that for the discounted vanity plates offered to disabled and aged people they are still required to pay the marginal cost of creating the specialized plate versus a standard one.

However, I think they should be drug testing these poor people. If you’re poor enough to not pay full price, you better not be high while you’re driving around in that vanity plated car.

Anthony February 18, 2012 at 10:53 am

Snopes reports that someone in California had NO PLATE and had similar problems, and that police and parking enforcement departments were told to write “none” when there were no places.

I recall a similar story from the 80s or 90s, where someone briefly had NONE as their plate, and got all sorts of tickets sent to them; the DMV took away the plate. The plate holder said that he’s actually prefer NOTHING, but California still only allowed 6 characters on license plates at the time. I suspect NOTHING wouldn’t cause those problems.

Incidentally, this is partly the fault of the programmers, who don’t check the vehicle make and model against the plates when querying the DMV database to get the mailing address for the tickets – Mr White (the holder of NO TAGS in the linked story) shouldn’t get notices for anything not a Chevy Avalanche, or at least, not a Chevy.

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Yes, they restrict offensive plates. Some bureaucrat reviews and approves them. I’m not sure they restrict “confusing” ones. The one time I looked into it, the application asked for the meaning of it. I don’t have vanity plates because I think they are vain.

The cost of the plates is certainly far more than the marginal cost. Here in Illinois they are about $100, and that’s up a lit from what they were ten years ago. It’s a government revenue source.

Discounts for the “elderly” presumes they are on a low, fixed income. More to the point, I think it’s just political pandering. I still don’t buy the marginal cost idea. I’m not sure whether the plate numbers are typeset, mechanical, or computer controled. If it’s a computer, then vanity plates shouldn’t cost more to make than any other plate. The administrative processing is where the cost is.

My question remains: if we assume you’re too poor to pay $100 for regular plates, you get to pay $25 for them as a “fair” price. Why should you be permitted to get vanity plates for $40? The $75 discount is arbitrary, and obviously some of the elderly and disable can afford $40 but not $100 or $115. Let’s say the marginal cost is exactly $25 for regular plates and $40 for vanity plates. So then I guess the state is just exempting seniors from the $75 tax. But why should this be age based and not income based? And if it’s income based, why should we let you pay for a $15 luxury when we are giving you a $75 poverty discount? How about we charge you $40 for regular plates? Interesting question that maybe a real economist can answer.

I never considered the drugged up senior. I was always more worried about eyesight, coordination, judgment, and reaction time. It bothers me when I see a person who can barely stand hobble to a car and drive away. Yes, the controls of a car are power assisted, but the other factors aren’t assisted.

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

@Willits

I think the elderly get a discount on vanity plates by way of price discrimination. Vanity plates hardly cost any more to produce and administer. OTOH they are a cash cow. Letting the elderly pay $40 and others, say, $115 for vanity plates might be a revenue maximizing strategy.

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm

@Rahul

Agreed. But then it’s imperfect maximization because they lose the tax revenues from the not-so-poor elderly. It would be better to discount based on income, wouldn’t it? Obviously it is less costly to discriminate by age than to add another layer or bureacratic review of income. So maybe you’re right, although I do think there is some demographic vote pandering.

So this is a tax. What is the justification for it? The marginal cost is paid for. Does the tax pay for fixed costs? Are they excessive?

Those are rhetorical questions. I’m not a government budgeting expert. I just always wonder where my tax dollars go. I also wonder why we pay these fees without a whimper. A one time fee that is not exorbitant apparently doesn’t raise much political ire.

JWatts February 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Discounting for the elderly has far more to do with special interest vote buying than it does with low income reasons.
And no one obtaining Social Security in the US is on a ‘fixed income’, it’s inflation adjusted. And personally, I’d like to have my income ‘fixed’, as it is, if I don’t work, I don’t income. ;)

Foobarista February 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm

There are numerous examples of “SQL injection attacks” doing stuff like #4. Once I heard about someone who put a board over something that was read by a reader (I forgot the exact details) saying something like ” ‘; DROP TABLE USERS;”. Since the reader simply stuck the data it read into a SQL query, the DROP TABLE command executed and fried the database.

Zephyrus February 17, 2012 at 6:26 pm

This is a separate problem than SQLI, though. They both subvert intended behavior, but SQLI breaks out of a value into the SQL “program,” while this isn’t taking advantage of SQL syntax at all. It’s just that the programmer decided to use a magic string to indicate a boolean property, instead of some kind of flag.

It’s as if the post office decided that if you want to have the mail automatically returned to the sender’s address, you should write “1 Home Street.” Which might work for most people, but then try getting in touch with the folks at 1 Home Street.

rpl February 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

It’s just that the programmer decided to use a magic string to indicate a boolean property,

The programmer did no such thing. According to WTOP, it’s the police who write “No Tags,” and the DMV just enters it as it appears on the ticket, resulting in the ticket being assigned to Mr. White’s vehicle. The DMV has asked the police to fill out tickets for vehicles without tags using the last 6 digits of the VIN, but (not surprisingly) they haven’t complied because peering through the window at the VIN plate is a pain.

Willitts February 17, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Many of the computerized ticket machines cannot process federal government plates, so you can park illegally and not get cited. I believe the federal government is protected from sovereign immunity, but the drivers can still be held liable if they are identified, both by the local authorities and the government.

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 1:46 am

Agreed. The programmer can’t do anything to prevent this. I put the blame at the door of the DMV paper-pusher who approved this plate. He should have known that NO-TAGS is a “reserved token”, so to speak.

There was this similar hilarious story where the most ticketed driver in Ireland was the elusive Mr. Prawo Jazdy. Turned out that’s Polish for “Driving License”.

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm

That’s a funny story Rahul.

In Illinois, our licenses are graced with the name and title of our Secretary of State prominently at the top – free campaign advertising.

Police in our state, of course, know who our Secretary of State is, but when I travel out of state it’s amazing how many times I am called “Mr. White.” It’s even more funny when I get VIP treatment because people think I’m a Secretary of State. It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s funny every time.

Our SoS has served for more than 12 years. He won election after our former governor and SoS was convicted in a licensing scam for CDLs.

Adrian Ratnapala February 18, 2012 at 2:19 am

It might not be the programmer, but the problem is exactly as described. Whatever forms the cop has should either have boolean checkbox for no-tags, or their should be a better null-value; such as a horizontal strike across the field. Basically bureaucrats have created an expensive bug in their information system, because even after all these centuries they haven’t figured out that they are building an information system.

The real problem is that guys like the poor bugger getting the tickets will usually loose any fight against the system. As a result nobody has an incentive to get it right. It’s other people’s money after all.

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 8:29 am

There was a rumor someone tried SQL injection on the London congestion zone enforcement cameras. Not sure if it worked.

Komori February 18, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Sadly, input validation is a very common programming error. Security is an afterthought for most software, when it’s a thought at all.

http://xkcd.com/327/

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Problem is that validation is boring work. Most programmers want to work on something cool and exciting; the drudgery of checking and trapping a hundred input errors is essential work; but has few takers.

Steve Sailer February 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm

“The Internet as a driver of cognitive inequality”

Okay, I can see Kevin Drum’s argument as perhaps being true in America, but as smart phones spread to rural, backward Third World countries, I can see them providing such a boost in intellectual stimulation that the current big gaps in average IQ scores between countries found by Lynn and Vanhanen could well narrow significantly.

dearieme February 17, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Particularly if the users can download nutrients.

Steve Sailer February 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Or even just being a better shopper: Hey, my phone is telling me that Kwan’s store is selling rice at 10 percent off today. Let’s see how Salim’s shop is responding?

Alex Godofsky February 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

The carbon permits article poses the collapse in price as some sort of problem. Why isn’t this just the system working as intended? The EU sets an emissions target, and it turns out that the total desired carbon emissions aren’t far above that target, so permits are cheap. If the target they set is actually consistent with the goal of reducing / preventing / reversing global warming, then we can all say Mission Accomplished and go home.

Careless February 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm

did you miss the end? They want them expensive because they need the money from selling them.

Ronald Brak February 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm

3. The very first two sentences in the article are, “Emissions trading, the European Union hoped, would limit the release of harmful greenhouse gases. But it isn’t working.” But that’s not backed up by the rest of the article. This isn’t just burying the lede, it is lying.

Careless February 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Well, sure, but the problem is that it’s not making them the money they hoped/wanted

Tom February 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

So it’s not really about the environment? I find this shocking!

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm

This is typical of Pigouvian taxes. If demand is inelastic (relative to supply), the tax raises a lot of revenue but doesn’t deter behavior much. If demand is elastic, it is a good deterrent but the tax doesn’t raise much revenue. Politicians understand this even if they aren’t economists. The problem is that taxpayers and voters don’t understand this.

mulp February 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Well, the carbon permits are only cheap because consumption is low and thus the economy should shift into increased investments in anticipation of the reversal of the business cycle to higher consumption which will curtail investment – investment is always production that is not consumed, so the response to increased demand is to shift production from investment to consumption.

By investing in burning coal today because it is the cheapest short term will drive energy prices skyrocketing as the economy picks up driving energy demand and the carbon permits become very scarce.

We see that markets encourage the grasshopper behavior of consuming now without planning for winter instead of the theoretical wise ant saving for winter behavior.

In five years, the price heading toward $50 from the $10 will trigger claims the carbon trading system has failed, because government policy didn’t signal to the investors the long term costs of burning fossil fuels.

The carbon permit trading system creates a positive feedback – as the economy declines, the carbon permit cuts investments in green energy production causing further decline in the economy. When the economy picks up, and overcomes the resistance of higher carbon permit prices, the high prices from increased activity will drive huge investments in green which will drive demand driving up carbon permit prices driving investment fueled by debt based on the expectations the $50 per credit price will rise to $100, and by the time it hits $100 and investments started two years earlier are really profitable (decided when at $30 headed to $50 but now at $100) will drive even more frantic investment in the expectation the price will hit $150, no matter how much debt. Then the green production will start a sharp decline, huge losses on the investments based on the $100 prices.

We saw this in the 80s. Reagan blamed the government regulation of oil in the 70s for the higher prices, not the OPEC actions, and ignored the government actions to reduce oil production from shifting electricity to coal from oil, CAFE standards, and major investments in energy efficiency. As the oil prices fell, the credit was given to deregulation, not to the decreased demand caused by the government regulation driving sharp increases in efficiency.

In the 90s, the low and falling prices of oil led almost everyone to predict that inefficiency was ok, failing to recognize that OPEC had been forced to slash prices to block investments in production outside OPEC because OPEC needed the revenue to retain power NOW no matter the opportunity costs. By 1999, the corner had been turned as conumption had sharply increased while supply decline was well entrenched.

Oil prices are about ten times higher than in the late 90s, but global production is about the same, and US production has increased three years in the past quarter century, since Obama took office.

improbable February 19, 2012 at 2:03 am

Alex’s point was that the complaint that the system isn’t working is unfair: its design goal was to cap emissions at so much, and if they are under this without much pain to anyone, that is a success. The article seems to equate the lack of pain with failure, which is an odd view.

Things may change in the next boom. If a dramatic rise in the price of permits is a sure thing, then these would be a great investment… but only if you trust the government to go through with the plan.

Daniel February 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm

You may have noticed already, but the very first graph in the new Economic Report of the President (http://1.usa.gov/yE0j0E) is a variant of your Great Stagnation in median income picture. Apparently you have some fans in the CEA.

Mitch Berkson February 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Little Bobby Tables: http://xkcd.com/327/

Bobby Tables, Jr. February 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Daniel,

I think the whitehouse’s graph is a very misleading. The composition of households is different today in terms of size, work experience, race/ethnicity, etc.

I think this is a fairer illustration of our traditional middle class…
http://img812.imageshack.us/img812/6697/censusyearroundemployed.png
http://img40.imageshack.us/img40/4089/censusdata.png
http://img515.imageshack.us/img515/4433/censuswifehusbandincome.png

In short, it seems to me that people that are working full-time are still doing pretty well. Obviously this recent recession has knocked some people out of the workforce involuntarily, but overall I think it’s very hard to say that the trend is that middle class that are actually are worse off than they were in the mid-90s or, especially, earlier…

jk February 17, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I don’t know if it was hindsight bias to realize that allied trading block countries look out for themselves first and foremost when things go wrong or try to find ways around agreements when regulations work against their industries. The EU has to be the shortest lived (self-proclaimed balance to the US “hyperpower”) empire in the existence of mankind yet faced no external threats of any sort. Therefore, It must be an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy!

CBBB February 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm

#1 – What the hell kind of post is this? So if you believe everything people tell you it can make you stupider? Oh really?

anonymous... February 18, 2012 at 2:48 am

In failing to understand it, you have provided an illustration that helps others understand it.

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm

+1

CBBB February 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm

What are you talking about? I’m pointing out that it’s a trivial observation hardly worth posting as a link.

Willitts February 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Anonymous was pointing out that your comment was a trivial observation not worth posting.

CBBB February 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

NONE OF MY COMMENTS ARE UNWORTHY OF POSTING !!!

If anything this blog is unworthy of my comments!

Dan Weber February 17, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Wolfram Alpha is a goddamned chore to use. Even when I know exactly what I want to search, and it’s very similar to something I’ve successfully searched — say, change nominal GDP into real GDP — it can take dozens of tries to get the syntax just right. And the feedback it gives you on the “almost-but-not-quite” searches is worse than useless.

A little space monkey February 18, 2012 at 4:47 am
nostril earlobe February 18, 2012 at 5:53 am

DuckDuckGo is nice, worthy idea, but it doesn’t work very well.
I tried it for a few weeks, but it missed a lot, and can’t serach images either.

Miguel February 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

When you do a search for “search engines” on DuckDuckGo, Google doesn’t show up.

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 8:27 am

Wouldn’t it be easier for an intermediary site to simply relay results to google? Or does google object? Why should it if I don’t strip away the ads?

Ideally why doesn’t google itself offer a no-logging option? Do American laws forbid not logging visitor IPs?

Mark Thorson February 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm

You don’t have to log into Google if you only do searches. I always have Java, Javascript, and cookies blocked while using Google, and it works just fine. On the day of the “blackout” to protest SOPA, I didn’t even see the blackout page — everything worked just like it normally does.

Rahul February 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Even without logging in I suppose they still know and log your IP address.

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