Archive for the 'Off Topic' Category

Social Norms vs Market Valuation

I’m reading Predictably Irrational a really fascinating book, especially for those who have any interest in economics. One of the chapters that I’ve just finished discusses the ‘two worlds’ of valuation and exchange: one which is ruled by ‘social norms’ and the other by cold rational market analysis.

The interesting psychological element to these two ‘worlds’ is that once you cross the threshold into the world of market analysis, you can’t go back. The author cites an example of a day care center which created a new rule which attached a monetary file to arriving late to pick up your child. Once the fine was implemented, more parents arrived later to pick up their children. The social cost of picking up their child late was not easily quantified and thus, most likely, it was greater than the fine attached. The most interesting part of the experiment is that they removed the fine, but parent’s behavior did not positively improve – late pickups did not return to the previous levels. Since parents knew what the cost was, even if it wasn’t charged anymore, it didn’t have a social cost associated with the action.

I’d be interested to see the average tip percentage in restaurants who include a base gratuity on the bill and those who do not. My guess would be those who include a gratuity lose out. Additionally, I wonder if the world of social costs exists in online commerce. Since we never really encounter any people-in-the-flesh online, it is easier to ignore social norms because there really isn’t any community to which establish them (although there are ‘ruled’ written and unwritten in many online communities, I’m not sure if these could be categorized as social norms or costs). For instance I’ve talked to many friends who use NoiseTrade who uncomfortably admit (in a face-to-face conversation) that they have never ‘tipped’ an artist on NoiseTrade.

Great book so far – excited to read the remainder of it.

Back From Europe!

Just a couple days ago I got back from my four month excursion to Europe. It was an amazing experience, best time of my life. I was able to visit Ireland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Poland, and Bosnia. So many great memories and experiences, it would be impossible to overview everything that happened. However, here are some lessons learned from Europe:

  • Top three beers in Europe: Kartausenbräu, Augustiner, and lastly Hofbräuhaus München
  • Peanut Butter is almost non-existent in Europe, bring your own supply
  • Zip-lock bags are also non-existent in Europe, bring your own supply
  • The EuroStar and EuroCity trains require a large ‘reservation’ (ie supplemental fee) in addition to the Eurail pass and fine you if you don’t have a reservation in addition to making you buy one
  • Train route planning sites (DB Bahn and the like) as awesome as they are do not provide with all the possible options for cross country route planning. Always look at the country’s own train site for more connection options
  • Beer is cheaper than water in Europe. If you want to save money and need water bring a water bottle and fill it up from a tap
  • Hostels are awesome (Hostel World). Always get a dorm bed, you meet the coolest people and you save money!
  • European’s in general are very friendly are willing to help you out and show you the secrets of the town. Don’t be afraid to roll up to a local hanging out on the street and ask him to show you around.
  • Barry’s Gold Blend Irish Tea is the most incredible tea I have ever tasted
  • Don’t waste time in Dublin if you go to Ireland, Galway or any small Irish town will treat you much better (check out Doulin)
  • Old Bridge Gelato (outside the wall of the Vatican) has the best gelato in Italy
  • Three helpful trip planners: The Backpacker, EuroTrip, and WikiTravel

One thing that I was amazed by was the European’s public transportation system. Buses were extremely cheap and well routed, round trip tickets between major cities ran less than 40 euro and local busses ran between 1-3 euro depending on the length of the journey (a two hour local bus trip would cost around 3 euro). The amazing part of the bus system was that locals pay about half of what we did! Trains were also cheap, regional train group passes were available in almost every country, one way trips ranged from 1-5 euro. Flights using Ryan Air or Aerlingus were also very affordable, 20-30 euro intercity plane tickets were very easy to obtain. I wish I could explore more of America but a bus ride from Philadelphia to Chicago will cost me around $300 and I have to ticket hunt for hours to get a round trip plane ticket that is cheaper. Oh well, I guess cars are the way to go in America.

I’m glad to be back and I’m enjoying getting back into programming and web-development!

STM Evolution Laptop Backpack

About a year ago I was able to get a MacBook Pro at an incredible low price. I’ve had many of my friends break their laptop screens simply by walking from one location to another because of inadequate padding and protection and I didn’t want my laptop to suffer a similar fate.

Putting the laptop in a incase sleeve wasn’t going to do it for me, and I didn’t want to lug around a ‘laptop bag’; I wanted a backpack specially designed for laptops. Luckily, to my surprise, I found exactly what I was looking for – the STM Evolution. The price on the bag was a little steep: $110. But thats a small price to pay for a easy to carry backpack that provides adequate padding.

For the first couple months the bag worked great. I was able to fit 2-3 large books, the macbook charger, pencils, pens, calculator, various cables, mouse, camera – basically any electronic device I use – in this compact, padded, easy to carry  backpack. However around the six month mark the zipper lining started to wear off and the shoulder strap started to rip. I was very disappointed. I was not expecting a $110 bag to fall apart within the first six months.

I decided to call up STM and try to get a replacement. The bag came with a lifetime warranty, but I honestly didn’t think I would actually be able to get the backpack replaced without spending copious hours on the phone or searching through old paperwork. To my surprise it took me less than an hour to get a replacement sent out. I sent them photos of the ripped shoulder strap along with my receipt and then sent me out a new one on the spot. Very impressive customer support. I received the new bag four days after making the claim and it ended up being a updated version with increased padding and better construction. My initial disappointment with STM was quickly dispelled after my encounter with there customer support.

Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone spends some quality time with their family & friends – that is what Christmas is all about!

Here Goes Nothing

A couple days ago I went ahead and bought my first guitar, a Fender DG-8. Hopefully with this guitar, a couple teach-yourself DVDs, some books, and some help from my guitar-playing friends I’ll be able to become half-way decent at the guitar.

Wish me luck!

Ice Sailing

I was talking to my uncle a month or two ago and he was telling me about the ice sailing going on the lake near his house. I’ve never heard of ice sailing before and I was surprised to find out that these ice sail boats go around 50-60mph! He finally sent me pictures the other day, so I got an idea of what these things look like. As you can see below, these boats are pretty small; it must be pretty cool going 50-60mph on these things.

Ice Boats
Ice Sailing