The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Lesser Depression, summarized

Paul Krugman takes a quiet moment to meditate on the economy:

If you think the problem is that wages are too high, your solution is that we need to meaner to workers — cut off their unemployment insurance, make them hungry by cutting off food stamps, so they have no alternative to do whatever it takes to get jobs, and wages fall. If you think the problem is the zero lower bound on interest rates, you think that this kind of solution wouldn’t just be cruel, it would make the economy worse, both because cutting workers’ incomes would reduce demand and because deflation would increase the burden of debt.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the problem lies in a shortfall of demand due to the zero lower bound, you believe that government borrowing needn’t drive up rates, because it puts unemployed resources to work; that monetary expansion won’t be inflationary, because the money will just sit there; and that fiscal austerity will be strongly contractionary.

I leave the adjudication of these competing claims as an exercise for readers.

After four years of a depressed economy, and what appears to be the economic hobbling of the entire Mediterranean, there might be some evidence to support one of these views.

Context switching

Not only does my time evaporate into multiple projects these days, but the number of context switches I've experienced over the past few days hurts. Here's today's timesheet:

Yeah, but I shoot with this hand. I worked from home Wednesday so that I could jam on some documentation. How'd that work out?

Blogging, by the way, helps me switch contexts. I think.

Marriage equality and Passover

Something about the Seder I went to last night and the marriage equality cases currently before the Supreme Court got me thinking along these lines:

The wise son asks, "What are the statutes, the testimonies, and the laws that the Constitution has commanded you to do?"

To the wise son, you say: The 14th Amendment gives every citizen equal protection under the law. The 10th Amendment reserves powers to the States that aren't specifically granted to the Federal Government. And the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion.

The wicked son asks, "What does this mean to you?"

By saying "you," he separates himself from the rest of the United States, and its rich tradition of liberty and tolerance. You say to him,

JUSTICE SCALIA: When did it become unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriage? Was it 1791? 1868?

TED OLSON: When did it become unconstitutional to ban interracial marriage?

JUSTICE SCALIA: Don’t try to answer my question with your own question.

Or, more succinctly, "Sod off, Tony."

The simple son asks, "What is this?"

Explain to the simple son that the founders of the United States created a system in which things that hurt no one are generally tolerated, so unless there is a rational basis for legislation, and the benefits of the legislation outweigh the harms, it must be overturned.

What about the son who is too stupid to ask a question?

In this case, just ignore him. He's a partisan hack without sufficient intellect, curiosity, or temperament to serve as a justice of the peace in South Podunk, let alone the highest judicial body in the country. And you know how he's going to vote regardless of the facts or law anyway.

Now go learn.

The parsley, the egg, and the branded content

Via Sullivan, a description of how Maxwell House Coffee got its brand on 50 million Passover tables:

Maxwell House decided to publish a book, specifically a Haggadah, and offer it to customers for free with the purchase of a can of coffee. (A Haggadah recounts the Exodus from Egypt, comprised of prayers, songs, and stories which guide the Passover Seder.) The Maxwell House edition was an instant hit. Today, it’s the most popular Haggadah in the world, with over 50 million printed.

Why has this piece of branded content endured generation after generation? Four underlining principles make the Maxwell House Haggadah the perfect case study in branded content:

1. Branded content must serve a consumer need.
Maxwell House wasn’t distributing content for the sake of distributing content; most likely, the agency lead didn’t have a secret ambition to be a translator (or rabbi!). Instead, it began with a simple insight: Jewish families spend quality time around the Seder engaged with a Haggadah.

Also the branding didn't intrude, like having Moses "descend Mt. Sinai with the tablets in one hand and a latte in the other."

Good books

Quick time-out from my generally useless day (long overdue and appreciated): A sign of a good book is that you spend more time thinking about it than actually passing your eyes over the pages. More on which book in a later post.

Border cases

Just a quick note about debugging. I just spent about 30 minutes tracking down a bug that caused a client to get invoiced for -18 hours of premium time and 1.12 days of regular time.

The basic problem is that an appointment can begin and end at any time, but from 6pm to 8am, an appointment costs more per hour than during business hours. This particular appointment started at 5pm and went until midnight, which should be 6 hours of premium and 1 hour of regular.

The bottom line: I had unit tests, which automatically tested a variety of start and end times across all time zones (to ensure that local time always prevailed over UTC), including:

  • Starts before close, finishes after close before midnight
  • Starts before close, finishes after midnight before opening
  • Starts before close, finishes after next opening
  • Starts after close, finishes before midnight
  • Starts after close, finishes after midnight before opening
  • Starts after close, finishes after next opening
  • ...

Notice that I never tested what happened when the appointment ended at midnight.

The fix was a single equals sign, as in:

- if (localEnd > midnight & local <= localOpenAtEnd)
+ if (localEnd >= midnight & local <= localOpenAtEnd)

Nicely done, Braverman. Nicely done.

Why shoot raw instead of JPEG?

At last night's performance, the venue used dim, magenta lighting on the stage that made poor Lauren O'Connell look like a pink ghost. Here's one image exactly as it came out of my camera:

Fortunately, I shoot raw photos, which take up lots of room (about 22 MB each) but with the benefit of lots of uncompressed image information. It's therefore relatively easy, using Adobe Lightroom, to correct for it. Magenta lights are pretty grim, though; the only reasonable correction was to make it black and white:

Had I shot these as JPEGs, the correction would have been almost impossible. The raw format stores light in four layers, much like physical film does. JPEG compression "develops" it all together.

Plus, I have my camera set to interpolate a black frame under an exposed frame when shooting above ISO 1600. (This photo was shot at ISO 12,800.) That gives the processing software even more information to help produce a usable image from horrible conditions.

Nataly Dawn in Chicago

The female half of Pomplamoose, Nataly Dawn Knutsen, played a venue four blocks from my house yesterday, so I just had to go.

She and her touring partners Lauren O'Connell and Ryan Lerman were as charming and talented in person as their music makes them seem. Dawn is also tall (178 cm in flats), which isn't readily apparent from her videos.

The tour moves east through April before going back to California at month's end. Also, Knutsen assured me that Pomplamoose will continue.

End of the drought

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel reports our 12-month drought has finally ended:

According to the US Drought Monitor, Illinois is now drought free for the first time since April 3, 2012. Most areas in Illinois have seen positive responses in soil moisture, stream flows, lake levels, and groundwater levels since the fall. A small area of northwest Illinois remains as abnormally dry due to some lingering concerns about subsoil moisture and groundwater levels in that area.

It was pretty grim for a while, with Lake Michigan levels falling to record lows and farmers losing crops downstate. So as squishy as this year has been, in a state whose principal economic products are still agricultural, the rain and snow has been very helpful.