The day to day business of engineering is more fun than the day to day business of physics. The ideas of physics are more exciting than engineering.

In both you ask questions of the form, ‘Why is this the way it is?’

The physics answer speaks to the nature of creation itself.

The engineering answer is, ‘Because I did it with a different servo, broke six of them, and now I don’t have any left. But I found a stack of these suckers in a closet.’

Hector and the Fairy Godbear bit

“Do they have any weaknesses?” I asked the mystic ferret. “Are they scared of anything?”

“Yes,” said the mystic ferret. “They’re scared of being trapped in a burning house with a pack of hungry wolves while someone throws chainsaws at them.”

“Okay,” I said. “I have a plan.”

But everyone else said, “No.”

They didn’t even listen to my plan!


Is a dumpsterfire. How does it require 80% CPU to open a script?

Not run. Open.

And the profiler is violently wrong, often under-reporting time by orders of magnitude. In real world time, scripts take minutes, plural, to run. In profiler space, the function is listed as 11 seconds total time.

Market Timing

Financial professionals often lose sight of the people they serve. It’s a problem, but one not unique to the finance world. This filters down into the retail base, resulting in people who spend more time looking at the particular characteristics of the market right now than their own situations.

I fell prey to this many times.

When you’ve got enough money to dump into investments and savings, it’s easy to look at market valuations and so forth and decide to wait. Here are a few tricks to make sense of the proposition.

1) Would you actually be saving money by holding off a purchase, or are you about to waste it on stupid stuff?

An advantage to a retirement account is it’s hard to raid the account for stupid stuff, and frankly, I like buying stupid stuff. I could spend a lot of money on my car. Skiing isn’t necessarily an expensive hobby, but it can be. This exists.

So I look at the S&P and think to myself, a 50% correction is perfectly plausible right now. But whatever I throw in is not completely wasted, and I’m on a 30-60 year timeframe for retirement. Meh. The odds are good the market will come back, and they’re not nothing that the correction will hold off.

2) If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it now.

Markets usually go up. That’s why people use them. Even now in the era of madness, bubbles, and froth, they tend to rise. What’s more, no one can see the future, so we’re all looking at the same data, present and past. Many people are trying to time the market and they can’t all be right.

3) Are you playing to your strengths or someone else’s?

We all have the same data, present and past. But we don’t all have the same goals. A money manager can’t lose for five years. Their investors will take back all their money. I can’t get my money out of retirement for decades, so I might as well go long.

This also means that the importance of present and past data is lower for me, because the further ones goes out into the future, the more new present or past becomes meaningful. So if I’m looking at pulling cash out in 2060, 2040 will be old news then. It’s new past.

But obviously no one can predict that well now. It’s twenty years into the future! It only gets worse from there.

What I can control is right now, and if I’ve got some retirement cash right now, I may as well put it to work. Markets do generally rise. Even Japan is starting to come back. With regards to a worst case scenario, if I dollar-cost averaged into the Nikkei over the 80s, I’d be well ahead by now, even with the ’89 crash. (The Japanese stock market hit insane bubble heights in the eighties, crashed in ’89, and has not yet recovered)

There’s a chestnut floating around that you shouldn’t invest money you can’t afford to lose. This is absurd. I can’t afford to lose my retirement, but without investing it, I won’t afford to retire on it either. Obviously I invest money I can’t afford to lose. There’s no alternative.

Lost Horizon

I’m reading Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It’s the origin of the Shangri-La myth. I’d thought that was some ancient story, but it’s less than a hundred years old. The book is one where the story is more interesting than the telling.


I put my foot into something without explaining myself.

BLUFF: Improved fuel efficiency is good, all other things being equal. All other things are never equal.

On the subject of fuel efficiency, let’s arbitrarily confine ourselves to three areas.
1. User fuel consumption and emissions
2. Manufacturing fuel consumption and emissions
3. Whole life fuel consumption and emissions

You can do this a million different ways, but these are convenient.

1 is what I was talking about in the previous post, and it’s what most manufacturers advertise. It’s less significant than it appears. The ur-example is fuel consumption for a hybrid vs a pure ICE vehicle. The hybrid may get better gas mileage for the owner, but various parts need to be shipped, batteries produced, other components manufactured, etc. The hybrid may have better (lower) user fuel consumption/emissions (1) but worse (higher) manufacturing fuel consumption/emissions (2). In situations wherein much of the user level emissions are not controlled by the user, ie the power-generation mix of the power company, the advantages from an emissions perspective can be very complicated.

1 is fairly easy to measure.
2 is hard to measure and often kept secret.
3 suffers all of the problems of 2.

We can model 2 with the purchase price, but that’s not a great model.

From an environmental perspective, we want to minimize 3. From a personal financial perspective, we want to minimize (1 + cost of purchase). The government tends to increase costs on 1 to reduce total emissions, regulate 2, and completely ignore 3.

The point here isn’t that improved fuel efficiency is bad. It’s that one should be careful to be sure what one is evaluating is indeed what one thinks it is. See the tag line.

Car Improvements

People tend to think in terms of engine power/efficiency or connectivity when they discuss car improvement with time. They tend to forget immense strides in brakes, suspension, and reliability.

We also get solutions in search of a problem, like back-up cameras on cars with decent rear visibility, but also problems with immediate solutions, like better headlights.

Fuel efficiency is a red herring. While direct mpg efficiency improves, we don’t know the increased energy cost of assembling the ostensibly more efficient car. How much CO2 is released shipping exhaust components around the world? Battery components have huge energy costs, both in assembly and use. By example, my local power utility is Xcel Energy, which is almost entirely coal powered. What’s the CO2 cost per mile for coal-powered electricity vs gasoline? All things being equal, better fuel efficiency is good, but all things aren’t equal. It’s more complicated than it sounds.

It is useful to shift more of the costs onto centralized users like manufacturers or utilities. The upside of economies of scale is such that those users would have the most ability and motivation to seek out increased efficiencies. Xcel is in a better situation to reduce their CO2 footprint than I am, and they’re in a much better situation than a thousand people like me.

Electric cars, as the technology currently stands, are a non-issue for me. I live in an apartment and park in a parking lot. The building is sixty years old, and car charging in the parking lot isn’t going to happen. It isn’t in the cards. But I’m not going to take a vehicle to a charge station and leave it there for four to eight hours a week.

There are a lot of Marie Antoinette environmentalists who think I should just take my $50,000 new electric car and plug it in to the charging station in my $600,000 house with the enclosed garage. These environmentalists are the ones who use the term ‘range anxiety.’


The metaphor won’t pull a story along if the plain meaning of the words doesn’t make sense.

The Titanic’s ‘Never Let Go’ speech was all well and good, but Rose let Jack go. Literally. That’s always going to be a problem.

The Killers’ song ‘All These Things I’ve Done’, the I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier one, honestly has a fairly interesting backstory. But it doesn’t make any sense, and Bailey’s ‘I’ve Got Ham but I’m not a Hamster’ spoof is dead on.

This is very difficult for me.