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The cost of being different, and others

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I was thinking about various costs this weekend, and I came up with a few. Everything I’m saying is purely speculation and deductive based on my personal, shallow experience. My opinions here are also wickedly harsh, and not very well articulated. You could say this is just a brain dump of what I thought about this weekend, and it’s not even 5% of that.

Speeding – Most people break the law on the freeway by going 5 miles over the posted limit. California law punishes 1 mile over the limit with the same penalty as 15 over. You might assume that people would either go the speed limit, or 15 over. Anywhere in between would be “inefficient” speeding. But police patrol imperfectly, and they seem unlikely to ticket someone for going 5 over. This is unwritten and purely customary in America.

– The efficient level of crime in this case is slightly above zero. People seem to weigh the value of time saved from that extra 5mph (in my case, it’s about 15 minutes saved time going from my home to my parents’ place, where I was going when I thought of this) plus the added danger of going 5 over, against the chance of being caught by police, coming up with a “market” speed of 75mph on I-5. There are market rates for all crimes, including murder, unfortunately.
– Younger people are either worse at assessing these costs or place a higher value on the thrill factor than older Americans, since they’re often the ones who travel 15 over.
– Rich people can more easily pay the speeding ticket than younger Americans and probably place more value on the time saved, so they also tend to go 15 over, which would save 45 minutes in my case. Not worth it to me, but if I have a Porsche, it probably is.

There must be some equation we use for assessing these costs whenever we see a posted speed limit. Maybe we can do this deductively. If the fine for driving 75 in a 70 is about $250 after traffic school and ticket fees, I want to drive 75 to save 15 minutes, and I believe my odds of being caught are 1% (almost zero), then perhaps I value speeding at $2.50. This sounds about right actually. If I go 85 mph, and the odds of being caught are 15% (from experience), then I value speeding at $37.50. What’s fascinating to me is I never thought about these costs; they seem to be either involuntary thoughts or learned through customs.

Being Overweight – I saw an overweight woman eating a salad, and I started wondering what costs someone has to incur in order to realize what they’re doing is not actually making them lose weight. Lettuce doesn’t make you fat, but the need for fuel usually means you eat some fuel source that you believe is healthy, and the recommended fuel by educational and media sources tends to be “complex” carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats. Conventional wisdom also tells us to exercise to lose weight. But since animals tend to stop exerting once they find something that sustains them reproductively (being fit), finding a method outside of exercise that helps one lose weight would result in a dropping one’s gym membership overnight. Not all people are this way, but I assume most are. So I’d then assume that people go to the gym because nothing else works for them, or they’re bodybuilders.

At some point the cost of going to the gym becomes higher than the value of being fit, even though the price of being unfit is extremely high. Aside from health reasons, the social pressure to be fit is enormous, especially if you’re single and unintelligent. The cost of lowered reproductive ability is sky high for most men and is the reason for many crimes. So what is the cost of exercising 3 times a week for a half hour? It’s very low. You don’t need a gym membership, you can just run around outside. So it’s almost free, as long as you live between the tropics. But there’s also the cost of disappointing, lackluster results, which I think is the ultimate cost and is what makes people stop exercising. Deduction would tell me that exercise doesn’t burn fat for most people, and other methods should be favored.

Why is it then that people don’t try changing what they eat? It would seem worthwhile, after the gym membership fails, to try an entirely new eating style. But this rarely happens. They also tend to eat according to official food guidelines, which we learn through school and the news. This past weekend I couldn’t find much in my parents’ freezer that had fat, cholesterol, or added sugar. It was all low-fat, low-cholesterol, complex carb, fruity, veggy, diet, natural, organic, free range, fair trade, etc. When my mom, who’s an informed person, goes shopping, she only buys things that her information sources tell her to buy, those things being low-fat, low-sugar, no-cholest, polyunsat, etc. My parents have eaten like this for 20 years now, supposedly the “healthy” way, and they gain weight every year. Is it because they don’t work out? No: that experiment has already been done and failed. Restarting that experiment wouldn’t be worthwhile. Could it be that food information is incorrect? Why would it be incorrect, and what costs do we incur by rejecting it?

It turns out that rejecting conventional wisdom carries extremely high costs, both in the supermarket and, to an even greater extent, socially. On my way out of town I bought various cuts of grass-fed bison from Wimer ranch for, on average, $10/pound. That’s half what I’d pay in the Bay. All for what? An experiment? And there are good reasons why information would be wrong, but that’s a different blog post.

Being different – The thoughts on diet and exercise make me wonder what the costs are for being different. For me, it’s low. Either I place a higher value on being different than most, or my “strangeness” overhead is already low, since I’ve already been a strange person my whole life. So experimenting with a new, unpopular idea carries a lower price tag for me. I’m already off to a good start; my reactionary political perspective is in line with roughly 0.000001% of Facebook users (maybe 0.00001% to compensate for the fact that reactionism and Facebook tend not to align), my views on gender turns heads in the Castro, and the combination of the first two makes me very weird in even those groups. Experimenting with strange ideas costs me next to nothing, and that might be why experimenting with diet had a low cost for me, but a high cost for my parents, who despite their fun quirks are very normal people.

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Written by xout

August 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Posted in experience, health

Bureaucracy Emerges

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In my job I tinker with anarcho-capitalism, the idea that without government, private firms would enforce contracts through arbitration and provide defense like insurance. In theory, it should reward good choices and punish bad ones, which will produce better decision makers in the populace. The internet is almost government-free: enforcing gaming laws is a losing battle, adult content is always available to minors at no cost, and for years it was a good case for anarcho-capitalism. I was an anarcho-capitalist for some time, but a recent site hack is making me rethink that.

Recently Network Solutions, where my website is hosted, was hacked. They pulled the regular heist: hack server, change all ftp passwords, edit pages with malicious code that takes viewers to a page where they’ll download something unpleasant, sit back and watch the stats to see how many people are upset. Hacks never bothered me. We’re hit every year or so. You clean the code, patch the hole, restore your backup (your fault if you don’t have one), and get on with life without hassle. People like me with a decent understanding of coding and how to prevent most attacks enjoy this self-reliance, which is about the closest thing to anarcho-capitalism we’ll see outside of living in space. Knowing I can take care of myself in this hostile world makes me feel warm inside.

But this time, even after I cleaned my site, the ordeal wasn’t over. Google scans pages for malicious code, and if they find any, they don’t index your site. Goodbye 80% of searches. If Google doesn’t index your site, Firefox also blocks your site.  Goodbye 40% of remaining visitors. Our stats dropped off the face of the planet and would stay that way until Google approved our site. Even with the code removed, Google claimed that our site had a security loophole, which could only be fixed through Network Solutions. I had to go through NetSol, wait for them to fix their server, then apply for Google to check my website again so that it could be re-indexed on Google and accessible to Firefox users. This could be prevented if I had my own standalone server, but only the big guys with IT teams can handle that. Little guys go through a provider like NetSol or Go Daddy.

Private enforcement by Google in an attempt to protect its customers is an-cap in a nutshell. David Friedman makes similar arguments, as does Hans Hermann Hoppe for private defense and crime insurance. But when private firms own a market-share of customers that it protects by preventing their access to a place of business, you’re basically talking about governance.

Not that it’s bad governance. Once the code and security loopholes were actually fixed, my site was up in a day. Try getting that kind of turnaround with a builder’s permit. The wonders of profit-based governance! If NetSol had dragged its feet, it may have taken a month, but NetSol is profit-based too, so they had an interest in fixing the problem. DMV it is not, but it is governance, which comes with bureaucracy and red tape, and that’s not an-cap as I understand it. That this private form of bureaucracy emerged from internet anarchy, festering with malevolent Ukrainians and Nigerians, isn’t a case that an-cap is bad, but that it leads to a sort of patchwork of efficient, private governance owned by share-holders and run by well-paid CEOs. I’d be ecstatic if America were run this way.

Written by xout

August 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

Attack of the Tables

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I had a dream about filming a movie. The director was really fancy and liked to show off, so when he was assigning wardrobes to people, the wardrobe person brought in hundreds of supermodels wearing the clothing and asked people to pick out the clothing they wanted to wear for the scene. The supermodels formed single-file “trains” that moved around the large building like a battalion of centipedes, and the director walked with me to pick the outfit I wanted. I chose some grey cargo pants.

Next came the propmaster, who had a similar system to show off the props for the scene, except instead of supermodels holding the props, the props were on tables that moved around in similar “train” formations. Soon there were hundreds of tables of varying sizes snaking around the large room. They didn’t even have wheels, they just floated around like air hockey pucks.

But the system was new and unstable, and one of the prop tables went crooked and caused a traffic collision with another train of tables. Within seconds the entire room was swarming with crazed tables, sending everyone into a panic. Everyone ran for the exits but couldn’t make it past the furniture.  I soon found myself cornered by a few dozen of them, but when we all realized that these tables had no real weight behind them and could easily shove them away, everyone started having a great time. It was like the tables were big, harmless animals that chased people around and dumped little props all over the place.

Everyone except the director and the propmaster was laughing. The propmaster was trying to put the tables under control with his remote control, which wasn’t working, with the director screaming in his ear. I found myself crawling underneath a huge congestion of tables and heard people running around on top. It was a blast and I may have laughed in my sleep.

This could make a fun ending to a movie, where the main character is crawling under the tables looking for the girl, while she’s running around on top looking for him. The villain would be the director, who is ruined now that he can’t finish his movie due to these insane, moving tables.

Written by xout

July 15, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Posted in experience, filmmaking