Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad, Finis

People will rightly place it up there with that other "greatest TV series of all time," The Wire. The superficial similarities are plain to see: drug dealing, violence, gritty realism, moral relativism, complex bad guy protagonists, and deeply flawed good guys. Great writing, story-telling, acting, and directing... these go without saying. Both series also establish an extraordinary sense of place: the city of Baltimore, and the high desert and sprawl in and around Albuquerque. And sense of place reveals how these two masterpieces could not be more profoundly different. The great subject of The Wire is, ultimately, the city itself. The setting is the story. As the ensemble evolves and the story arcs change from season to season, the character of the city and of its people reveal themselves. Breaking Bad, on the other hand, is a love story. The setting is a metaphor for the psychological terrain on which this story plays itself out. The question that sustains us is, which will win out in the end: Love of the game, or love of the surrogate son? Must we then conclude it is a cop-out when in the end WW gets to have them both?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Marcella Hazan, RIP

I love to cook, and I aspire to cook the way Marcella Hazan instructs me to cook in the three cookbooks of hers that I own. The books are a pleasure to read: clear, mouthwatering, authoritative, and more than a little authoritarian... don't even think about using store-bought noodles in your lasagna. Well, Marcella, mea culpa, but as I opened that pasta box your (literary) voice was there, scolding me. I have also made it with the fresh noodles, and you were right, of course.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Brought to you by climate change... deadly giant hornets!

"A sting from the hornet’s quarter-inch-long stinger feels like a “hot nail through my leg,” according to an entomologist who got too close for comfort. The venom contains an enzyme that can dissolve human tissue, and too much of it can also bring renal failure or death." (source)

On the plus side, maybe they can be trained to take out the NSA drones that are spying on your house.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Carbon nanotube computer!

“This is a general computer and we can do anything with it,” said Max Shulaker, a Stanford graduate student who is a leading member of the research group. “We could in principle run 64-bit Windows, but it would take millions of years.” (NY Times)

No worries... I switched to Mac this year... I'm sure the OS X version is a good deal faster...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking Bad denouement

Being a callous sort, I almost never suffer nightmares from movies or TV shows. I took Alien and 7even in stride. The penultimate episode of BB was not even that strong, by the show's high standards. But I woke up early this morning in a cold sweat and was unable to get back to sleep. I can't remember my dream exactly, but I know it was unsettling, and had something to do with Jesse's predicament.

I agree wholeheartedly with these points made by Boing Boing reviewer Kevin McFarland... definitely count me among the 99%:
  • "I am convinced that if every other fan favorite character dies, but Jesse gets to kill Todd, 99% of Breaking Bad’s viewership will be satisfied.
  • Seriously, though: What did the DEA do with Huell? Side note: I would watch a spin-off entitled 'Everybody Loves Huell."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mal Sharpe...

... is a true San Francisco original and a very funny person. Coyle and Sharpe's early-mid-60s radio spoofs were indeed ahead of their time, but their humanistic and gently anarchic humor shares more with the beats, hippies, and pranksters of their own decade than with the shock radio, jack-ass movies, and Sacha Baron Cohens of our own.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ben Bernanke

Whine all you want about how he could have done more, sooner. Has anyone in a position of real power anywhere done more economic good than he has?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ranking elite colleges on graduate salaries

Here we learn that graduates of Oberlin earn a lot less on average than graduates of Harvey Mudd. Huh, wonder why? To be fair, the reporter does note that it may be a function of the fact that Harvey Mudd graduates engineers and scientists, Oberlin musicians and poets.

There is no big surprise here. Colleges differ in many ways besides quality of instruction, including quality of students, distribution of majors, location. Students and parents cannot make an informed judgment about the earnings potential of a degree from a particular institution without implicitly controlling for these other factors.

In fact, we have readily available public data on college graduates' salaries by field of study. So how hard would it be for the NY Times to run some simple analysis predicting the salary differential between Oberlin and Harvey Mudd implied by field of study? And how hard would it be to do a google scholar search and find that many of the best minds in empirical economics have taken a look at the relationship between pay and elite college attendance, trying to control for selectivity of attendance (e.g., here and here)?

And yes, there are nonpecuniary benefits to a college education that salary statistics miss. And we haven't even touched on the cost side of the benefit-cost calculation.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Breaking bad

Yes, Walter White is bad-ass... but not THIS bad...