thomas locke hobbs | weblog
travel, latin america, photography, urban planning and stuff.
...and now my New York chronicles

May 31, 2000  
The Fable of the Keys. Journal of Law & Economics, April 1990.

The Fable of the Keys was published as the lead article in the October 1990 issue of the Journal of Law and Economics. It demonstrates the falsity of the widely held belief that the Dvorak keyboard is far superior to the Qwerty keyboard. This is important because the typewriter keyboard is frequently mentioned in this literature as the archetypical case of the economy getting stuck on the wrong standard. That many of the papers in the network externality/path dependence literature continue to use this example as support for their theories illustrates the empirical weakness of these theories.

posted by Thomas

May 24, 2000  
Cheap Solutions to 3rd World Problems. New Scientist, May 24, 2000. (via RobotWisdom). Proof that capitalism rules. Well, sort of. Talks about ingenious fixes to 3rd world urban sanitation problem. Like a big vacuum cleaner for raw sewage

Its 6-kilowatt Honda motor provides traction (maximum speed 5 kilometres per hour) and the suction to transfer the thickest latrine sludge into its 500-litre tank and later discharge it into a nearby city sewer.

posted by Thomas

A new one from Malcolm Gladwell. New Yorker, March 13, 2000. About the co-inventor of the pill and how his conceptions of morality influenced his research.
posted by Thomas

May 23, 2000  
All About CNBC. Fast Company, June 2000. Like all their articles, this one is long and boring, but here's a really interesting paragraph:

CNBC has departed from all other TV news in another crucial way. Whereas most TV news has little relevance to viewers -- a story about a murder won't help you avoid getting killed -- CNBC has one criterion for almost everything that it broadcasts: Is it useful? ... A private company -- even a large, important one -- gets no coverage, while a tiny dotcom that's going public gets plenty.
An interesting take on utility. Altho, in they end, even CNBC is supported by advertisers.
posted by Thomas

May 22, 2000  
Kid Rock Starves To Death: MP3 Piracy Blamed. The Onion, May 17, 2000. The clearest commentary I've read on Napster, and damn funny. Once again, satire tells the truth no one else can.
posted by Thomas

David Sedaris stories and columns from Esquire. A complete archive of the stuff he's written for them going back to 1998. Here's a sample from a recent Oral History of Mother's Day:

Once, I gave my mother a nice bottle of shampoo. I washed her boat, picked shit out of her gutters, and spent the entire day kissing her ass. She didn't thank me or anything, so after that my attitude was basically, "Hey, fuck you. When they start calling it Bitch's Day, you'll get another present, but until then you can buy your own fucking shampoo." –Jay Bullock
I first discovered Sedaris when a friend recommended reading Barrel Fever with his famous Santaland Diaries. The esquire articles are quite good and they comprise most of what you can find of his available on the net. For a more comprehensive set of links, go check out this good fan page.
posted by Thomas

May 18, 2000  
The Economist Surveys Argentina. May 2000. These Economist surveys are tasty! More than even I would want to know about the current economic state of Argentina. I'll read it on the ferry ride over to Uruguay this weekend.
posted by Thomas

Rolling your r-r-r-r-r's isn't innate! altho I've thought it might be based on the way people here in Buenos Aires (and Spanish speakers in general) effortlessly roll them off the tongue. You try saying ferrocarril five times in a row. So last night my friend Miguel mentions that it took him til the age of five to perfect his rolling r's. Aha! Relentless social conditional. Alas, I fear it's too late for me.
posted by Thomas

May 16, 2000  
Bring On the Germs. Too Much cleanliness may be making some people sick. Salon, May 3, 2000. An interesting article exploring how our obsessive cleanliness is making people increasingly susceptible to allergies. There's a related article in this month's Atlantic Monthly, Does Civilization Cause Asthma? tackling similar themes. The idea common to both articles, is that exposure to germs during early childhood strengthens the immune system in much the same way that visual stimulation allows the visual cortex to develop. Clearly, a life without germs is not something desirable, as this passage from the salon story shows:

Germ-free animals need special vitamin supplements because they don't have gut bacteria, the benign microflora that manufacture vitamins and release minerals. They live no longer than regular animals. They typically have an enlarged cecum, smaller heart, lower blood volume and chronic mild diarrhea. They have fewer white blood cells than animals that meet and greet germs, and different proportions of lymphocyte types. If scientists infect them with a known microorganism, they don't cope well. Theirs is not the paradise of cleanliness we've been looking for.

posted by Thomas

May 09, 2000  
So I live in Argentina and all my postings to this log are web economy and usability stuff. And none of it even has anything to do with what's going on here. (Sigh!). Anyway, I'm putting together a usability area for the company I work for (we build websites) and I've made sure we have many, many copies of Jakob Nielsen's Designing Web Usability lying around and being read. After reading his Alertbox column for some time, the book is a good synthesis (regurgitation?) of the ideas he's written about. I was really struck by the following paragraph touting the superiority of 2-D over 3-D rendered on a flat screen for displaying information:

Finally, entertainment applications and some educational interfaces can benefit from the fun and engaging nature of 3D, as evidenced by countless shoot-'em-up games. Note that 3D works for games because the user doesn't want to accomplish any goals beyond being entertained. It would be trivial to design a better interface than DOOM if the goal was to kill the bad guys as quickly as possible. Give me a 2D map of the area with icons for enemy troops and let me drop bombs on them by clicking on the icons? Presto. Game over in a few seconds, and the good guys win every time. That's the design you want if you're the Pentagon, but it makes for a really boring game.

posted by Thomas

Targeting doesn't work. New York Times, May 7, 2000 (via slashdot). This really interesting article talking about how targeting banner ads on the web really isn't that effective. Economically it makes more sense to pay $2 CPM for shit run of site ads than pay $80 CPM for super-fine grained targeting. Here's really the key quote of the whole article:

"We don't need to track people," said Robert Pittman, president of America Online, which has disavowed the database marketing techniques that are being offered to advertisers by other big Internet sites. "If you want to sell cars, you talk to people when they are in the car area."
Duh! The high income person in the market for a Benz probably isn't going to care about banner ads that appear when she's emailing. She won't even see them. The ensuing discussion on slashdot of the article was uncharacteristically good. There was one fantastic post which explained why it doesn't make sense to pay the extra CPM. Basically, in the offline world, paying a few extra pennies (which is what $80CPM works out to) makes sense because it's a fraction of the total cost of sending out expensive catalogs. On the web mailing people is (almost) free, why pay ten times as much for targeting when you can just banner spam.
posted by Thomas

May 05, 2000  
The Heirs of Ayn Rand, Has Objectivism Gone Subjective? Lingua Franca, September 1999. Talks about recent academic interest in the old curmudgeon, and is a good summary of her life and bizarre inner circle. Those of you who have seen my booklist will note that I went thru a rather severe objectivism phase, like most others, in my late high school, early college years. An article like this lets me reminisce about those bygone days.
posted by Thomas

May 04, 2000  
George W. and the Skull & Bones. The Atlantic Montly, May 2000. On the super-secret Yale club to which George W. (like his father and grandfather before him) was a member. Debunks a lot of the secrets, most of them quite mundane and silly.

New members of Skull and Bones are assigned secret names, by which fellow Bonesmen will forever know them. ...George W. was not assigned a name but invited to choose one. According to one report, nothing came to mind, so he was given the name Temporary, which, it is said, he never bothered to replace; Temporary is how Bush's fellow Bonesmen know him today. (In recent interviews I asked a number of Bush's Bonesmen classmates about the name and elicited no denials.)

posted by Thomas

Yet another article about blogs. Feed Magazine. But it's nice and long. It also talks a lot about Jorn Barger, maintainer of Robot Wisdom, one of the canonical blogs out there. Some interesting personal details about his life:

During the first two years of Robot Wisdom, the Web log was Barger’s full-time occupation. Full time: He sat in bed surfing and linking all day long and had, he says, no job to support the habit.

"I live on bread and water," Barger explains. "So as not to submit to the Idiots."

Well, homemade vegetarian pizza and cheap, supermarket-brand coffee, actually.

Sort of confirms my worst fears about engaging in a habit like this. Look where it leads (photo of jorn on epinions)
posted by Thomas

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Send me email: hobbs@post.harvard.edu
Let me know what I've misspelled.

About me

My name's Thomas Locke Hobbs. I used to live in Argentina, now I am in New York City. I grew up in California. I'm a bit suspicious as the value of keeping a weblog, but I do it anyway. Go to my home page for more about me.

Weblogs I read:

Xblog, Virginia Postrel, Signal vs. Noise, Peterme, Obscure Store, Metafilter, Media News, Lonely Planet Daily Scoop, Lightningfield, Kottke, Joel on Software, Dan Bricklin, Camworld, Arts and Letters Daily,

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