We love RBOC

  • It is scary when you pick up your phone and the person says “Hi, I’m calling from the State’s Attorney General’s office” and then one of your colleagues suddenly appears at the door looking nervous and frantically gesturing at you.
  • Turns out ze had a statistics question.  But I thought I was seriously in trouble… I’m like… but state income tax isn’t due yet… And that’s not the right office anyway…
  • A highlight for the week:  They fixed the lever on the toilet near my office so it now flushes with minimal rather than maximal effort.  Previously it had to be at exactly the right angle and pressure.
  • One of the secretaries asked if I was pregnant.  I hope she doesn’t know something I don’t know (update:  she didn’t).  In retrospect, I probably should have waited until she left the break room before taking a second free sandwich.  (I accidentally left my lunch and snacks at home in the kitchen, so I was stocking up for my afternoon snack and I’d missed my morning snack.)
  • How can a kid safely get through babyhood and toddlerhood without ever sticking things where they don’t belong, then suddenly decide to stick a bead up hir nose?  (And yes, I know I did the same thing with a pea at this age, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid.)  And why decide to discover this right before bedtime?  Guess we’ll find out how much general anesthesia costs in an emergency room …  Update:  The anesthesia itself wasn’t expensive, but the entire experience $1300 for us, $3000 bill to the insurance company.  (And yes, this is the first year I’ve had the high deductible insurance.)
  • The patriarchy ticks me off.  I would please like my senior male colleagues to stop telling me I need to have another baby, especially in front of job market candidates.
  • Also, if I dislike a candidate, it is not because I need to, “soften up.”  Thank you very much.  Just because said (tall white male) candidate fawned all over you (and somehow, coincidentally over the entire search committee), doesn’t mean I was the only person who thinks he was an asshat.  Because I wasn’t the only person he was an asshat to.  The fact that the only people he was an asshat to are females and minorities not on the search committee, maybe, just maybe, says more about the candidate than it does about females and minorities.
  • Shedding = extra kitty love.  And little leftover kitties made of nothing but fur.
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Adventures in Science

It’s 6pm on a Friday and I’m in the lab building with my research assistants, getting ready to run a study.  I tell them, “And now, we’re going to very gently and respectfully ransack Dr. Q’s lab.  He said we could borrow some equipment until ours gets here, but he said he didn’t know what room it was in.”

So we traipse off down a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, until we come to his lab area.  We turn on the lights as we go, so that we are less likely to be eaten by a grue.

You have been eaten by a grue.

photo by Flickr user cofiem under creative commons


I say, “Let’s start with this room, which is unlocked, and appears to be for storage.  Hmm.  This box is labeled ‘Hawaiian decorations’.  And… it appears to be labeled accurately.”

Hawaii Vacation 2010

photo by Flickr user merfam under creative commons


As it turned out, the equipment we needed was in another castle room.  But now I really want to know why there is a carefully packed and stored box of Hawaiian decorations in our lab building.  Readers, what strange creatures have you encountered where you work?

Diana Wynne Jones 1934-2011

This post is bumping what was originally scheduled in order to pay tribute to one of the finest fantasy authors in all of creation.

Diana Wynne Jones died far too young, at the age of 76, of cancer.  A brilliant writer, my favorite of her books are what I call “mind-flip” books.  The ones that make you think, that expand your horizons.  She didn’t write formulaic pablum (except in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, in which she lampoons it.  There is also lampooning in Dark Lord of Derkholm).  She introduced physics and unexpected plot twists and delicious prose and magic and all sorts of wonderfulness. Things are often not what they seem in these books, yet everything always comes together stunningly in the end.  Her books invite rereading.

What follows are our favorites, with brief descriptions. If you haven’t read Diana Wynne Jones’ books and stories, you have a world of happiness and delight ahead of you.  We only wish she’d been able to stay around another 10 or 20 years or more to delight us with more of her work. Look for two more books forthcoming posthumously, a short novel and a collection of odds and ends.

Here is a sweet remembrance from Neil Gaiman (to whom she dedicated a book, much to his delight). He talks about her death and her life.

The Chrestomanci series.

Every single one of these is an amazing mind-blowing delight.  (Click on book covers for first of each series)

The Dark Lord of Derkholm duet.  (#2 likes the second one better actually)

A Tale of Time City.  Straight science fiction and brilliant.

Fire and Hemlock (this was great!)

I love the stories in Unexpected Magic, and so did my MIL!

Howl’s Moving Castle series (excellent)  The movie was awesome too, but I missed some of the sub-plots.  The book, as always, is better!

Aunt Maria.  Dark.  Feminist.  Subversive.

Her sexier adult fiction: Deep SecretSudden Wild Magic. (Ok, not all that sexy, but very good!)

There are many more besides these books.  We will enjoy them for years to come.

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What is the role for government?

There are some fundamental misunderstandings about what the role of government is and why government does some of the things it does.  For example, some folks think that the government is supposed to be “fair.”  Fair has nothing to do with it. Not that the government is actively trying to be anti-fair (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist)… It’s just that fair would be incredibly expensive and would result in crazy tax rates and all sorts of negative unintended consequences from messing with the free market.

Roles for government are:

1. Fixing adverse selection problems. This is when there’s imperfect information and one side has information and the other side doesn’t. This causes things like insurance companies not wanting to sell insurance because only sick people will be willing to buy it. But if everybody were forced to have insurance, then the cost of insurance would go down and both insurance companies and people are better off on average. Mandated workers compensation is an example of this– companies and workers are happier that everyone has it, and workers in risky occupations are willing to pay for it in terms of lower wages. (We discussed this concept in terms of the used car market in this post.)

2. Fixing moral hazard problems. Sometimes when something is offered, it causes negative behavior from people trying to legally game the system. Bank regulation might be an example of fixing this problem. Sadly, sometimes fixing an adverse selection problem causes a moral hazard problem! People may be less careful about workplace accidents if they know they have worker’s comp (though because of regulation, companies have gotten empirically MORE careful about safety in the workplace).

3. Discouraging negative externalities and encouraging positive externalities.  Externalities are negative or positive indirect effects.  The canonical example of a negative externality is pollution; pollution hurts more than just the polluter.  The government can regulate pollution in many ways, but even the most market-based solution requires the government to set property rights. Property rights have many other positive externalities as well, as they enable the market to do business, encourage research in the form of patents and so on.

4. Preventing monopoly. If you’ve ever taken an econ 101 class, you probably covered this and vaguely remember something about a big deadweight loss.  Some monopolies aren’t natural monopolies, but businesses with market power use shady tactics to drive other companies out of business (ex.  box store lowers prices far below what they’re paying for things until all the other stores in town go out of business, then raises prices sky high).  In some cases there is a natural monopoly, where it makes sense for there to be only one provider.  This is why utilities in small towns are government provided, but in cities utilities are often private.

5. Public Goods provision.  These are things that you can’t keep people from using and can’t be used up.  That means if anybody buys it, everybody will use it.  So nobody wants to buy it– they’re hoping someone else will.  That leads to free-riding and under-provision.  Some folks believe, but don’t realize that’s what they believe, that the only role for government is public goods provision. They think that the government should provide national defense, jails, police, possibly roads.  Really national defense is the only pure public good, but many things that government provides are public goods but not completely non-rival and non-excludable.  (e.g. Roads can get full, people could put toll gates on them etc.)

These all come under the heading: Market failure. The role of government is to prevent market failure, or to step in when markets fail. When the government fixes a market failure, everybody is better off. The degree to which any tradeoffs are made with the above five points is a point of disagreement, but those are legitimate roles for government. When the free market breaks down, there is a role for government to step in.

Some people also believe that there’s a role for paternalism (providing basic minimum needs is an example of that, though you could argue that corpses rotting in the streets is a negative externality) or redistribution, since a dollar is worth more to me than to Bill Gates, overall utility is maximized if he gets to keep a smaller percent of his dollars than I do of mine, assuming our utility functions are of equal weight.  But that may or may not be a role for government based on morals and ethics.

Even the most liberal sounding thing can have conservative reasons for government intervention. This point is most obvious when we’re talking about kids (the future of our country). Sure, bleeding heart liberals think we should feed and educate kids because they’re cute and fuzzy… they’re all paternalistic that way. BUT, feeding and educating kids has additional positive externalities as well… a kid who is fed and educated today is less likely to get a mental disability, is less likely to have a teen pregnancy, is less likely to drop out of school, is less likely to start a life of crime. They’re more likely to be productive members of society. This means they are more likely to contribute to the economy, not destroy property in the future, and be less likely to wind up in jail at tax-payer expense. You don’t have to like kids to think they need to be fed. Additionally, with kids the moral hazard is lower, because kids don’t make decisions– their parents do… and sometimes without these government programs the parents are not going to give up whatever they’re spending money on instead of food so they can feed their kids. Feeding the kids doesn’t cause the same kind of bad incentives that say, Disability (SSDI), does.

If you want to know more about the role for government, I strongly recommend Public Finance and Public Policy by Jon Gruber.


Why do they always get messed up and try to twist the wrong direction?  Is it supposed to be a metaphor for life or something?

There are sticky-note slinkies that you can use at work and they are quiet to play with while you’re on the phone.

Here’s sum link lovin’ … not as much as we should have but this week was crazy busy.  Oh for Spring break!

These wrong cards highlighted by inktopia are SO TRUE.

Ever wonder about how penis size varies by geography?  Here’s a map.  Yes, I totally used this in my stats class.

An example of language being dangerous by Historiann.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Love Lindy Mint’s discussion of her  game plan for debt repayment.

First Gen American says it is never too late to save.  Look at her mom!

Excellent post today by tenured radical discussing “a big bad pwofessor going aftah the eeny-weenie iddle politicians,” and some good warnings about what not to write using your campus email address.  Basically the Republican party in Wisconsin is demanding all email from a professor’s account in order to harass him for criticizing their politics.  I also wonder what happens when the open records act and FERPA come into conflict.

This is a somber, moving, and well-written piece of history: Ash Wednesday

New acronyms for gifted kids.

Check out this video to find out more about a very important book.  It’s free, and it’ll change your life.

What’s your least favorite chore?

I hate vacuuming and sweeping.  I would rather clean a toilet.  Of course, putrid smelling things tend to make me vomit (literally).

#2 hates cleaning but likes laundry.  I sort of hate dishes but like when they’re clean.

#1 likes laundry too.  Many happy memories of chatting with her mom while folding it.  Truly a family activity.

I don’t think we have anything more stunning to add to this post.

Yeah yeah, I know this isn’t the drama you were looking for, but there’s PLENTY queued up over the next two weeks.  We just decided to take a happy little breather this week.  Maybe Money Reasons will start reading us again if we stop picking apart his posts (but then *bam!* just when he least expects it we’ll slam him for saying that WOHM are letting someone else “raise” their kids “during their formative years”).

Anyhow, back on topic…

What chores do you hate?  Do you do them anyway?  Do you pay someone in love or in money to do them for you?

RBOC, again

  • Putting laundry away is a game.  DC is a superhero who must put hir laundry away before a parent takes it for hir own chest of drawers.  Sometimes the superhero gets a little overly enthusiastic and accidentally runs off with a pair of parent’s underpants.  Oops!
  • Dear campus:  Hey, it’s ok to have that semi-crazy preacher out on the quad; it’s a time-honored tradition, and kind of entertaining.  Every campus has one.  What is NOT ok are the freaky evangelical dudes who come up to you on the way to the library and want to engage in personal conversation with you about where you’re going to spend eternity.  Does Jesus want you to be a rude sonuva mother?  I didn’t think so.  Please send security after these non-students.  Lots of love, #me.
  • Also, #2 succumbed to the lure of one of those online quiz thingies… sorry.

    Which Hogwarts house will you be sorted into?

  • #1 is also Ravenclaw, though perhaps from a different online quiz (years ago).
  • I love my bucky heating pad neck warmer thing.  Heaven!
  • Dear Past Self:  I love you so much!  I thought I had all this prep work to do tonight and when I finally made myself sit down to do it, I found that you had already done it last semester.  Thanks!  You saved my butt.  Love, Current Self.
  • DC is reading a steampunk book… Magic Treehouse Merlin Mission #35 is set in Steampunk France.  Apparently they’ve been talking about the Eiffel tower at preschool as DC had many random trivia to tell me about it.
  • Steampunk for life, baby!

What have we been reading lately?

Lots of Georgette Heyer.  She continues to be AWESOME.  Couldn’t get into False Colours but enjoyed The Tollgate after reading Charity Girl!  Loved The Convenient Marriage (which is very similar to, but somewhat different from, April Lady).  Why Shoot a Butler? is ok, but the main character is kind of a jerk.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan  (click on book covers for linky!)

In the Stacks: Stories about Libraries and Librarians edited by Michael Cart

My Point… and I do have one by Ellen DeGeneres

Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold.  I came in at the middle of this series but I like it quite a bit.

the Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence K. Block

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.  Tiffany Aching’s deepest and darkest and most enticing book yet.

PG Wodehouse populates my kindle.  The juvenalia is awful and was deleted (I already read it once in libraryback and it wasn’t worth it) but there’s still a few gems in his early stuff.

Once again… don’t let me go to the library alone!

My (1990s) roots are showing

Apparently I accidentally talk about butts when I’m lecturing.

For example, last semester I made a statement, waited for the students to write it down, and while they were writing I wanted to qualify the statement and added the caveat, “But there’s a but at the end… which is where butts usually are…”  There were giggles.

Not as many giggles, though, as there were the other night in my class when I got all punchy.  Again, I made a statement which was not the whole story (will I ever learn?).  I said, “There’s a big but here.  I like big buts.  And I cannot lie…”  Lots of laughter.  Well, once I had started it, I felt the need to continue.  Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a sentence that I know sounds bad and the only way out is to deliberately make it sound worse.  It cheers my ancient granite heart that the students of today still caught my cultural reference from oh-so-long-ago.

(Sir Mix-a-Lot is against silicone implants!)

#2 whines:  My students don’t get my 1990s references.  I had to dig up the Log song from Ren and Stimpy on youtube because they thought I was crazy when I started singing it.  They still think I’m crazy, but at least they know I didn’t make it up.  They’re also starting to not get some of my Colbert Report references that students got when I first started teaching.  I’m getting old.  Butt it adds to my charm, right?  Oh, and generally about one person per semester gets my super nerd jokes… like the one about fighting the gazebo… or when I quote Adam from MythbustersPatience, how long will that take?  That sort of thing.

Have you ever said anything very awkward in front of a group of people?  Of course you have.  Tell us about it.

The Do You Watch TV Post

Personal finance blog posts about the latte factor are always devolving into arguments in the comments about whether or not we should get rid of tv and whether getting rid of tv means you’re some sort of effete arugula eater who thinks you’re better than anybody else.

I know you all are just dying to know where we stand on this issue.

Well, we can both afford latte factors. We have savings goals, but we’re managing things well enough that we could do cable without guilt if we wanted. Sure, one of us has housing debt and the other student loan debt, but we’re not really at the rice and beans stage of our lives anymore.

However… that doesn’t mean we’re not elitist effete snobs!

#1: We had a super cheap tv in graduate school. When we worked as graduate RAs and had some extra income freed up, we bought a fancy video projector. We kept the projector but ditched the cheap tv after moving after graduation.

We *meant* to get a tv. But we never got around to it. Plus the DSL + landline option was cheaper than the cable option so we went with that. (Eventually we were able to get rid of the landline.) Then what with one thing and another and Netflix… well, we never did get around to getting a tv and cable. We really prefer watching our shows via netflix after the entire series has come out. No missing shows, no commercials, no series getting canceled without warning. Plus we’re so behind on everything we can easily be patient.

We also use Comedy Central, Hulu, and CBS for direct streaming of recent shows.

#2: I do not really watch TV right now.

But boy do I love me some HGTV.  I also like Daily Show and Colbert Report on occasion, but not enough to track them down.  Most of my “TV” viewing comes via things like Netflix.  Dr. Who, Torchwood (LOVE!).  I watch football on TV mainly as a way of taking a peaceful nap, while occasionally awakening to root for whichever team has guys with names I enjoy saying (Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, I’m looking at you).

That said, we totally don’t care if you watch cable or not. If you like sports or whatever, go for it!

Interesting and related post from Little Miss Moneybags:  Does TV ruin your life by making you think you can never measure up?

From SonyaAnn:  Our life without TV.

Where do you stand on the TV question?