Scamz

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/10/19/how-your-junk-mail-shows-if-youre-rich-or-poor/

It seems this is an example of the government protecting people. It is a case in which, if left to the devices of the free market, there are people that will take advantage of others, in this case in “broad daylight” so to speak. The government has since changed the rules on this activity…so I wonder where the predatory behavior has migrated to? And what if this means that credit card companies become incredibly less profitable? Is this a social ill? It will surely be measured that way in a political debate that ignores the whybehind the loss of profitability
 
Something I think that I find hard to wrap my head around is what exactly the state should do in markets? Referee. That’s an old answer. It’s not cheap to a) collect data, b) have the knowledge to spot these and frame them as crimes, c) have the proper policy response to correct the problem, and d) be able to sell that response to the dipshits that get elected and vote on these things.
Finally, I also don’t know where I stand on the morality of it. These are adults who agree to be taken advantage of, in a sense, and the defining feature of those who avoid the trap seems to be an education. Buyer beware is one response, but it’s not reasonable to expect consumers to be experts on subjects outside of their productive scope. This paper makes the argument that people are acting irrationally, and therefore don’t understand the contract…and what if we made people take comprehension tests in addition to signing contracts? Haha, there goes your housing market!
Haha, perhaps universities should be using these types of studies to sell over-priced education, rather than false promises of employment. Fear is a better motivator than greed, after all. So if you tell people that your best defense against predatory corporate interests is to be smart enough to avoid their traps, what would enrollment cost-benefit analysis look like? But…alas, the people without an education offend easily, and would resent the marketing.
I think the further irony…if you’re reading these articles, you probably aren’t targeted…knowledge is power.

Prediction Market

We in Canada have an election coming up, and so I just want to remember what these things said about the candidates.

As of today I found a couple of markets.

This one seems mostly U.S. based, so I will discount it a bit. But it favours Harper : 60c to buy a 1 dollar bet vs. 30c for Trudeau and 14c for Mulcair.

https://www.predictit.org/Market/1301/Who-will-be-elected-Prime-Minister-of-Canada-in-2015

The Sauder School of Business has this one, which is both Canadian and has higher trade volumes.

https://predictionmarkets.ca/market.php?chart=volume

The Libs are currently trading higher for seat share (36.11 on Oct. 5 vs. 35.00 for the cons), but Oct. 5 was the first day for the libs to pass the cons, so we’ll see if the trends cross back to a Con win in the next few days. It also predicts a minority government, and that the libs will win the popular vote.

Finally, this is a monte-carlo simulation on all of the data from various polls by the Globe and Mail…also calling for a Con minority…although the write-up does support that the Libs are doing better in the last day or two, so it depends on how you weight the polls.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/globe-election-forecast-2015/article25377958/

Just looking at the Sauder one, I think it is the best data re: skin in the game and Canadian. It would currently suggest that, while a Lib minority is the most likely result, a Con minority would not be that surprising, and in fact the markets had been calling a con minority for the last week or two. Which means we get an interesting election night.

Anyway, if you’re Cdn, register by clicking the below image and go vote on the 19th.

Promotional icon to put on your web site saying

Finish what you started… :-

I have started reading a new book.

Just like the last paragraph, I have complete thoughts, so far, about the book, but I set out to achieve so much more. I am not above gimmicks. And I suffer from disorder. And scattered thoughts.

Sometimes I feel like a moth, circling a light, believing it’s the moon, just fulfilling instinctual movements. These evolved senses guided us forever, and now there are cinnamon buns in airports that will give us diabetes, and make us obese, somehow in that order, or backwards, but the damned smell of cinnamon is known to make peoplefolks get hungry, and spendy. You get it, right? We are fallible, now (not just now), because our evolution didn’t prepare us for this world. These flashing lights! And abundant sources of pornography! And vodka in energy drinks! We’re fucked!

And this is a problem. I started a new book, but I didn’t finish the last one, and not because it wasn’t compelling, or interesting, but because I wanted to know the stuff in the new book, and it came along more recently. And all of a sudden new shit was pooping in my head.

It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last. The issue is: what happens if I never finish these books? I will never be like Tai Lopez.

Routines can save us. I have had them in the past, and some work wonders. Lifting weights, great routine. But they also suck time. And they have to be worth it. Lifting weights is worth it. I’m not sure finishing all the books is worth it.

But how to identify…?

Lifting weights is easy to rationalise. Before/after photos. Past personal experiments. But watching statistics lectures online…that one is hard to know. What if I don’t need to know statistics? And really, theory classes don’t really give you a working knowledge, that comes with skin in the game.

Could it hurt, spending time finishing books? Absolutely. Opportunity cost, bro. Everything you do comes at the cost of not doing the next best thing, but…that is already language that just racks on the guilt. What if you take opportunity cost to be the most fundamental concern at all times? You can’t know the best, most optimal use of your time, all of the time…At best you can get away with some sex-panther logic, and in that case, just try to have as few doubts in yourself as possible. And if you really vanquish your doubts, maybe you can become a self-help guru.

I live with doubts. I have low confidence, and it used to result in crippling anxiety. Now, I have confidence in select things.

  1. People with a lot of confidence are fools
  2. I am not a fool, but…Dunning-Kruger
  3. Fuck it, people forget things easily

Anyway, there is a logic that ties this all together…Oh yeah, I don’t finish things. And it is attention span. I now realise I don’t have one. It lasts about a month. Then something comes along and I lose it. So a new, whole new, world philosophy is what I get into…Is there something special about the month? “Flavour of the month” is a saying. Maybe it is more profound than what meets the eye…ear?…eye? We’re fucked.

However, sometimes I look back, and the one-month sprees add up to knowing some things. Like…about half finished books worth of knowledge…Ok you can get a Lambo for ~ a quarter million.

Which means…if I read half books, I can get half of what Tai Lopez gets with full books. So…maybe I’ll make some YouTube videos in my late-thirties with some Lexus cars or Caddilacs or something, and I wont be in the Hollywood hills, but maybe a nice neighbourhood of a second rate city. I can’t wait.

Dead foreign children

A friend emailed me this news article today. It’s about Canadian politicians and the currently famous picture of the drowned Syrian refugee boy.

I have one strong case to defend the conservatives…overload. They have a lot of cases to deal with, many of them tragic. But people don’t like that excuse. I don’t envy the government officials, this is an issue that really demonstrates the difficulty of governing, at a personal level. Most of us are glad to be free of that burden.

Overall, I am most offended by the opportunism of Trudeau in this context than the conservative’s policies. What’s the quote? “You can’t decide you have compassion after the fact…etc..”(something along those lines). Mulcair’s response was much more subtle and much more palatable, but still opportunist. Harper’s response pissed me off, too. But I think it comes from a solid, respectable conviction, a conviction I disagree with, but one that is useful for the moral debate, at any rate…because it is consistent, it has merits as well as severe problems. Ultimately, I don’t know if politicians can turn that opportunistic part of their personality off, when you have been campaigning aggressively night and day, you lose sight of reality.
Yet…what I actually see in this story is the moral ineptness of our people. This is a case in which I would say, people read about it, blame someone else, and go back to their lives. If you were to bring up the refugee crisis before this photo was published, and before this story was published, people would assign it a low priority in the overall election debate. Now that the international community can blame Canada for inaction, all of a sudden it is a priority (or not, we shall see). But the problem is that I have a longer memory than the news cycle. I know from my personal experience that people don’t care until they have something tangible. A big reason is the lack of imagination and the lack of committing time to thinking about the suffering of others, and an abundance of time thinking about which beach resort to trot off to next, or which streams to go a-fishing on.
If we entered this conversation with the acknowledgement that our real set of values in this life do not place human lives above our own amusements, then we can go somewhere. But people find this appalling. So I’ll admit it, that I don’t universally value human lives above my own pains and pleasures, and this is a moral failure. This is why I feel qualified in saying that we are a morally inept people, I have to look no further than my own life. It upsets me that this is a condition of modern life, but there are reasons: lack of power to change anything; lack of information to remind me of this problem. Etc… Perhaps if society were structured differently, I would not be such a failure.
Many of those who get involved in the ’cause’ will find this position frustrating, no doubt. I have been in both sets of shoes, as an activist in certain causes and as the myopic worker bee. There are very marginal expressions of power available to people (Canadians in this case), perhaps starting with who you vote for. However, these marginal expressions of power do not produce the feedback needed to incentivise an individual to remain vigilant and committed to a cause. Rather it is the acknowledgement of like-minded peers that matters.
This is what leads me to my conclusion that these types of injustice will be a fact of life until someone comes along with a mechanism to express power, or a mechanism to sustain commitment to a cause. I would imagine a currency of some sort, ‘freedom points’ if you will, a way to contribute to the overall good of humanity in a measurable, publicly displayable fashion. The closest thing I am aware of are the works of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum…things like the happiness index. But these are macro-societal initiatives that do not communicate to individual “morality” balances.
Another interesting observation I can draw from this article is the power and real world value of art. Call a photo what you will. The narrative of this newspaper is a work of art, it is not a scientific report. It selects the facts that might compel the readers to act. If you ever doubt the fundamental power and primacy of the humanities (maybe not in an academic setting, but in the real world), here is your evidence. It’s not a scientific narrative, it’s a moral and philosophical one that is being reported.
But to focus on art. It serves the purpose of communicating emotion. And what we need in this world is a ‘free market’ of emotion. We need to obliterate emotional distance and the best tools we have, at the moment, are works of art. The sad reality is that arts in commercial settings are too often used to fuel our lust for materials, what else is pop music? It is not something I will ever really feel spiritual about, I can basically guarantee that much. If you want more evidence of our moral ineptness, turn on any television, and remember the statistic that in the time use surveys conducted recently, television is still the number one way people pass time. How many moralistic programs can you find? Well, a bit of a trick question, but the morality of the television is highly consumerist. And is a TV mirror or a window?
Anyway…Adorno basically wrote all of these ideas 50+ years ago. Nothing has changed. Thoroeau wrote this same thing 150+ years ago. Who else in history? Marcus Aurelius? The stoics? The difference is that we have technology to viably communicate these things, and most people don’t even feel guilty for wasting the opportunity.

The best feminist for men to read

I read Tyler Cowen religiously. And he, among others, has turned me on to Elena Ferrante, and so I am reading the Neapolitan Saga. See below for the Tyler Cowen link to some review.

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/08/a-very-good-paragraph-and-a-half.html

The author has shunned fame, and publishes under a pseudonym. The vanity fair interview with her is actually one of the most interesting things I have read in a while. Particularly the parts about feminism. So that’s what I’m here to talk about.

Go read the vanity fair bit about how she talks about being accused of being a man, it’s absurd, and she simply transcends the criticism…a theme in the interview, actually. She has an amazing mind, I found myself absorbed. Where do people like her come from? Naples…duh. Ok. But, I mean, she has presence, you feel wisdom, and not overreaching wisdom. She has comfort in her words, she knows her origination, her own story, in a depth that, perhaps, only a writer can accomplish, and a writer that has just finished a (likely–at least partially) autobiographical masterpiece. So when she is handed labels of feminism or masculinity, she can play with them and set them aside, they don’t distract her, they don’t cause anxiety. I wish I could say the same, I lack the depth or the confidence.

I have loved and I love feminism because in America, in Italy, and in many other parts of the world, it managed to provoke complex thinking.

On her feminism, I can’t thank her enough for her lack of anger, militarism, and her celebration of the complex. This is a topic you can’t enter without getting it wrong. What are feminists? You have to master a history slammed by wave after wave, and a guilt for being on the wrong side or whatever (as a man), and then you have to deal with the strife within the ranks of feminists.

There isn’t any credible authority in gender, but I always feel that, as a man, there is a subtle guilt-ridden assignment of power to women on this topic. How could it be any other way? But it isn’t an honest dialect if there is a community of only feminine and opponent camps. And I’m just woefully ignorant to start defining where I belong in the mix. I just hope to convey some sensitivity to the lack of being la femme, but still have a working appreciation for the feminist movement, or the topic, or whatever the hell feminism actually is.

I can say that the Vanity Fair caricaturization of the masculine critics (we don’t know who they are, could be women) trying to suggest Ferrante is a man is handled in a humorous/absurdist way, the way Jon Stewart would render certain political positions ridiculous, but it probably isn’t an honest, or not a completely honest, account of the people asserting the masculinity of Ferrante. But the reaction is what is worth pause. Ferrante sees the ridiculous, and the masculine critics are completely clueless.

Are they clueless? Do Ferrante and the Vanity Fair reporter get that right? Not likely. But the point is taken, nonetheless, certain speculation is offensive and revealing all on its own. Why do the critics need to explore narratives beyond the one presented? Is there any credible reason to question the gender of the author?

I didn’t even think to question it, but I am taking the work in as an audiobook with a female voice reading it to me, it was natural to just assume she was a woman. And I wont pretend to think I understand any significant differences between men and women when it comes to perception. Largely I find the topic a quagmire. So I am content to just watch the show, and have my laughs when someone points out a silly line of thought. But I can’t help feel deeply insecure knowing that there is a huge debate that a bunch of really smart people seem to be savvy to while I maintain ignorance. But I just really distrust the feminists and their opponents.

Ferrante is, here, like I said, making it absurd. Which is in line with how I feel about the topic. But if people are accusing her of being masculine, I run into the whole paradoxical line of question: Is my comfort in her approach a product of her masculine appeal? Shit. Are women actually so alien that we need some sort of brilliant translator? I don’t believe that, but maybe it isn’t totally crazy to think so.

Anyway, the greater point of comment here is that Ferrante is worth following, she isn’t a polarizing figure, she is a diplomat. She offers enlightenment and perspective, and everyone would benefit from reading her works. It took to the end of the first book for me to start being amazed. The topics wouldn’t normally interest men, I don’t think, they centre around female friendship. I think it’s still a distraction to focus on that aspect, though, this is a story of people, and your a person, and you can take all sorts of perspective away from it.

What I found also interesting in the interview were Ferrante’s beliefs that male friendships, and the rules they adhere to, were somehow better defined, and that since there is much more masculine literature, she can be somehow more confident in that assertion than any man could be about female relationships. All I could do was smirk, what does she know anyway? Men are just as neurotic and self-hating as women. They foil themselves on others, all the same. These are human stories. I don’t know if gender should get all that much attention.

Gas Prices in Calgary

I had the usual office chat about gas prices going up and oil prices going down. I wanted to make sense of it, and so I looked it up. Since I did that work, here you go, take a look.

First, there is a Financial Post article tries to explain how oil prices are linked to gasoline. I just used the formula they have at the end to see if our prices added up (see below).

This is a handy website that forecast prices at the pump, and gives some current conditions to explain price movements (e.g. right now high prices are attributed to U.S. refineries facing outages).

Bummer, it’s going up.

On my quick addition (see below table), it looks like we’re being hosed by .22 cents on either the retail margin or at the refineries or both. Now, they sell off stock at whatever price they paid for it at the time…so today’s RBOB isn’t the actual feeder price of gasoline today. I’m not really satisfied by that explanation, so I think we are being hosed.

Here is a chart showing WTI and Calgary Gas prices

Looks like Van and Toronto have prices coming down until the most recent tick, and actually Calgary prices are higher than Toronto prices at the moment…The other thing to note is that WTI and Calgary gasoline prices sorta move together, but there is a seasonal element in the gasoline prices. I wanted to download the data, but they wanted money…so I couldn’t do the adjustment. But looking at it, it looks to be seasonally driven to some degree.

Anyway, enjoy.


RBOB

Market Price RBOB  $        1.72
Convert From Gallons in Litres  $         0.45
Exchange Rate CAD/USA  $         1.31
in CAD/L  $         0.59
Assumption Canadian Refiners add  $         0.05
Federal tax on gasoline  $         0.10
Was .09, thanks NDP. Provincial Fuel Tax  $         0.13
Assumption Retail Margin  $         0.08
Double Tax! GST  $         0.05
Gas Prices that would make sense Total  $         1.00

Time Travel

This is a short story I wrote a while ago…and I was working today on powerpoint, and I couldn’t help but think someone went back in time and fucked it up.

——————————- Ketchup Packages ————————————————-

“I’m thinking of getting one of those time machines…You know those time machines they’re selling now? I’ve heard things about them. I can’t tell if they work.”

“Don’t get a time machine.”

“Why? I hear they work. It would be pretty cool to go back in time. I don’t know. How could they work? It just seems like a gimmick. It’s a lot of money for something that might not work.”

“They work. Just don’t bother with it. Don’t fuckin’ get one. It’s a waste of money.”

“They work? What about all those people saying it’s a scam? How do you know?”

The man sighed and shrugged, he had wanted to avoid the story.

“I had one. It takes you back alright. Just, it’s not what you think.”

“What do you mean?”

“All these people that say it doesn’t work are idiots. They thought you could like walk around and talk to people.”

“You can’t?”

“No, fuck, you can’t do shit unless you spend a lot of time there, in the past or whatever.”

“Well what’s it like? Why do you say it isn’t worth the money? I mean, holy shit, you’re in the past!”

“Listen, it’s not like that exactly. Who knows what the fuck is going on when you go in that thing. The science isn’t there yet. But I can say that you go into the past or something like it, because when you come out, things are different.”

“Like what? What is different?”

“Okay, look at this.”

He held up a packet of ketchup. They are at a diner, eating hamburgers.

“What about it?”

“See, you think this is the way it has always been.”

The other man chuckles.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

A sigh.

“This is exactly what I’m talking about.”

“What? You’re not making any sense.”

“This!” he shakes the ketchup in the air.

“What about it? It’s a fucking ketchup packet. So what?”

“Exactly, look how shitty it is.”

“It does the trick.”

“It’s shit. It’s shit, and I hate it.”

“Calm down man, it’s just ketchup. Who cares?”

“Look, they used to be better. They were always shitty, but this…This is fucking awful.”

“What, so you went back in time and made ketchup packages worse? Are you kidding me? Fuck,  you’re so full of shit.”

The man was serious, and drew a long breath ending in another sigh.

“I’m going to tell you what I did. I got one of those machines, and poked around. I tried to change something, but it doesn’t really make sense at first.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look, just listen. You get into that machine, and it takes you to the past. You don’t physically go, I don’t think. But you can move a…a like game screen, like playing a video game, it’s weird. I don’t know. That’s why everyone thinks they are fake. But listen. I played around with it for a while, and I figured out how to use it.”

“So you don’t go to the past?”

“No, well I think you can look at it, and you can change things once you figure it out. I bet they set it up like that on purpose, to keep people from fucking things up. But look, nobody would know, because the changes happen, and everybody thinks it’s just the way it has been, because it is, in a way, after you change something.”

“They set it up so that you can look but not touch, sort of thing?”

“Yeah…but I figured out that touching bit.”

“I bet you did.”

“Shut up. I’m serious. You don’t touch things, you fuck around with some code and you change the scope of influence on the machine. So like, just by observing, you change things.”

A pause. The other man is confused and thinks it is all bullshit.

“Look, I went in that machine, and looked. Usually that’s all you can do, but the picture is shit, so I played around with it to get a better picture. But when you do that, and you watch people, they act differently.”

“Wait, why do they need a machine then? Why not just a screen?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think it would work, I mean, you sense things too when you’re in the machine.  It’s like the matrix. Uh, but not really. I guess. That’s probably, too, why people don’t think it works. You don’t get to walk around and shit, you don’t use your body. It’s like you can’t go back with much, just some shit that already exists in the past. Like, that’s also why people can’t go back to the dinosaur times.”

“I don’t follow. What is it?”

“The machine connects to things that are man made, that have some sort of property that allows a connection. So, the more recent the history, the more places and stuff you can connect to, just because we know how to hook up to stuff that is man made, there is a signature or something. Also, there isn’t much of a database for you to look at different places and times and such that you can go to. You have to sort of figure out from the manual what works.”

“Weird.”

“Yeah, anyway, I tried to change it a bit. I found out where ketchup packages were made. Something about the first couple of factories made them pretty good places to connect with.”

“So what did you do exactly?”

“I just kind of tried to see better, and then…I like came back and all the ketchup packages were this shit.”

“So what did you actually do?”

“I don’t fucking know, but these piss me off so much that I stopped.”

The other man laughed.

“What the fuck? You’re full of shit.”

“I’m not lying to you. I just quit. I don’t think you can do much with that machine, and probably you can just make things worse. So fuck it.”

“So that’s it?”

“Yeah, fuck it.”