All entries for March 2005

March 31, 2005

Economics Notes – Social Welfare

In the first year of university, ‘revision period’ was spent asking myself, “How are we supposed to remember all this stuff?!” The most pertinent question at the time was whether it was worth the effort given that the first year was simply a qualifying year. Students in other departments had a slightly greater incentive, with the year being worth 10% – 15% of the overall degree.

This year, the quality of the notes I’ve written limits how much it’s possible to learn even with all the will in the world. For microeconomics in particular, the scrawl of equations and odd looking, half complete diagrams have rendered many pages useless. With a trip to the library (for books that’ll inevitably be on loan) being a last resort, Google is the next best alternative.

I’ll keep track of any links to useful information on the off chance there are any 2nd year Economists about.

First up is this set of lecture notes from City University on Welfare Economics.
Only just looked at it, but it seems to cover a fair bit of material though there don't appear to be any diagrams. Topic 5 in particular defines some basic principles, talks about social welfare functions, types of social welfare orderings and consequences for orderings of differing levels of utility comparability. This is the sort of thing covered early on in Term 2 with Chuck Blackorby.

You can access the lecture notes here.

March 30, 2005

Interesting Flickr app

Any users of flickr, the photo sharing website (plus anyone who hasn’t heard of it before!) should take a look at this new browser app that lets you view images by tag. Clicking on a given image allows you to see a larger view, and there are links to the photographer’s profile. Below, is an example of the interface after a search for ‘Warwick’.

Click here to access the site.

March 29, 2005

Yahoo 360 is now live!

Charline Li posted a preview here a few days ago and said,

I got a detailed walkthrough of Yahoo! 360 this afternoon, and I have to say, the Yahoo! team has done an excellent job thinking through key details of how to not only integrate blogs and social networking, but also how to pull in elements from the Yahoo! network.

The ability to leverage your network to get something done is what gives Y! 360 the real potential to become something even bigger. At the beta launch, users will have the ability to look narrow local business reviews by their network – a rec’d from someone I know counts for a lot more. Of course, this assumes that people will start creating reviews (a clever way for Y! Local to jumpstart reviews on the service). In the future, I can imagine new modules for job searching, dating, travel planning (“What hotel in Paris would you recommend?”), car buying, the list is extensive. Yahoo!’s (as well as MSN’s and AOL’s) advantage is being a one stop shop in terms of leveraging your network’s knowledge across multiple categories.

Full article here

It doesn’t look too bad on the whole, but as someone who didn't use Yahoo's services before, it doesn’t hold anything to tempt me away from Warwick Blogs. If you fancy an invite to the service, let me know.

Politics: Any point? Much difference between parties?

The world of politics has never had much appeal to me, but in the light of the new found ability to vote and the impending general election, now is as good a time as any to pay some attention to the major parties.

Michael Howard had been attracting media attention over the dismissal of MP Howard Flight. It came to light that Howard Flight suggested that cuts in government expenditure under a Tory leadership could potentially exceed the official figure of £35bn put forward. Considering this a breach of the official line, Howard has barred Mr Flight from representing his constituency in the forthcoming election. Naturally, Mr Flight has chosen to fight the decision and the outcome of the process will be seen in the near future.

Now on aggregate, the Tories are simply proposing to spend £35bn less than is planned by the Labour party, with the savings coming through the elimination of unnecessary or marginally useful components of government such as the Department of Trade and Industry. Far from cutting front-line posts, the party has promised to match the Labour party’s proposed spending on services such as the NHS and education.

At present, there seems to be little ideological difference between the two parties. Labour are proposing to spend lavishly, whilst the Tories are promising to spend moderately. All the while, the media is rarely short of stories regarding the failing school system, plus bed shortages, MRSA and missed targets within the NHS.

By simply promising to spend less than Labour, the Tories pass up the opportunity to spell out how the NHS and school system will be reformed. Obviously, the party wouldn’t risk alienating the public by straying too far away from convention, but failure to put forward alternatives to the state management we’ve come to know and put up with, they imply that mediocrity and poor returns on investment are the public’s lot. The implication is that Labour’s system of operating via hierarchy and targets is indeed the best alternative.

Is it any wonder people don’t think a change in government will yield any substantial gains in quality of public service provision? Why on earth would Michael Howard dismiss a fellow MP, an MP with proven constituency support, for merely suggesting that the Tories would look for ways of saving money? That show of strength has obviously brought you party and public respect, Michael.

March 28, 2005

Home Computer Magazine

Home Computer Magazine is a free, professionally made electronic magazine released monthly. Issue 5 is now available for download.

Issue 5 is our biggest and best issue so far. Our main feature this month is on burning CDs and DVDs. Windows XP's built-in CD burning features are fine to get started with, but are a bit limited. We tell you which free CD/DVD burning software to get, how to burn music and movies to disc and even how to "slipstream" your Windows XP installation CD so that it becomes a Windows XP SP2 installation CD.

We're really pleased with our reviews this month, as Michael, our reviews ed, has got his hands on a notebook from Acer which uses Intel's new Sonoma chipset, the replacement for Centrino. We've also got a new Media Center PC from Hewlett Packard and a Toshiba notebook, plus reviews of Acronis TrueImage and Intuit Quickbooks. See below for a full list of items reviewed this issue.

Our tutorial section grows again this month and is now split into two sections, one for general PC tutorials and one for the popular web building tutorials. We look at customising our web templates in our CMS driven site, creating an RSS feed and the easiest website creation system you've ever seen.

It’s a great source of information, and can be downloaded here.

March 27, 2005

Sweatshops & Misguided Western Protesters

Here, I commented on the tendency of politicians to tackle problems without thinking about a) the unintended consequences of actions and b) the probability of actions yielding the desired outcome. These ideas apply equally to the well meaning, but ultimately misguided support the Fair Trade cause and campaigns to rid the developing world of multinational corporations.

Hispanic Pundit relayed an article from Asian Labour News about workers in at a factory in Taiwan who have been striking due to their inability to work more hours than is currently permitted.

Taiwanese factories in Dongguan [a city between Hong Kong and Guangzhou and a major centre of manufacturing] are facing a problem. According to a news report in the United Daily in Taiwan, over a thousand workers at a factory, which produces goods for big brand names such as Nike, demonstrated for two days and damaged equipment and factory cars. 500 armed police arrived and quashed the riot. Several leaders were arrested.

The main cause for the riot was the limitation on working hours at the factory. The shorter hours have been requested by US companies so as to avoid criticism from various groups on long working hours. However, the mainly migrant workforce want to work longer hours so they can earn more. Consensus had been reached by the US companies, the Taiwanese-invested factory and local government that the maximum working hours per week should be set at 60 hours [which is still a breach of Chinese Labour Law, but less than other manufacturing plants]. However, this reduction in hours was unsatisfactory for the workers and the resulting riot was serious.

This is not to say treatment of employees abroad should be ignored. Still, blind protests in the West by consumers seeking to ease their conscience do little for those they seek to protect.

March 26, 2005

Some love for Warwick Blogs

I came across this post from Tom Coates of about a conference hosted by a UK representative of SixApart, makers of the blogging software Movable Type. He had this to say about Warwick Blogs:

I think the best speaker of the evening was John Dale who has been putting together Warwick Blogs for Warwick University (which look like a pretty stunning implementation of the weblog concept inside an academic context). I think the part of his talk that surprised me most was that of everyone I've ever seen trying to market and publicise weblogs they seem to have done it best. They had a whole series of pretty stunning stickers and posters and fridge magnets that they distributed all over the campus. I've never understood why weblogging companies don't explicitly target these venues – surely if you get them when they're young, imaginative and have a lot of free time then they're likely to stick with you for years.

It’s always good to see one’s university getting credit for stuff. Well done to the Warwick Blogs team.

March 24, 2005

Radiohead start work on new album

Reported by yesterday:

After two years away from the studio, Radiohead have begun working on new music again, planting the seeds of what will likely become the follow-up to 2003's Hail to the Thief. A cryptic message from frontman Thom Yorke, posted earlier this month to the band's official webboard, suggested that this may be the case, however vaguely, reading, "hey weve started work. (speaking of cookies) no really." Now there's confirmation from guitarist Jonny Greenwood to back up the gibberish.

"Everything starts with songs, and with Thom, and with the excitement you can get in the band when you hear new music, and you know you've got the chance to watch it mutate and change," Greenwood told NME. "There's nothing like that, nothing as exciting. We're rehearsing at the moment, and again it's fun. We all want to push forward, and when you have five people who are all like that, you couldn't ask for a better thing."

In related news, Yorke and Greenwood will be appearing live in London next Monday and Tuesday at the London Royal Festival Hall, as part of The London Sinfonietta, to premiere new material they've apparently written specifically for this event. Fans should prepare to witness "two evenings of experimentation, collaboration and cross-genre juxtaposition," according to the performances' spokespersons. A selection of classical works and Arabic traditionals will also be played.

To say I’m looking forward to this would be an understatement.

March 23, 2005

Yahoo challenges Google, offering 1GB mailboxes

I.T.Vibe reports on the press release from Yahoo! here:

Yahoo! Mail, one of the leading providers of free web based mail, has announced that over the next two weeks it will be increasing the amount of mail storage space available to it's users from 250 megabytes to 1 gigabyte, free of charge. This announcement comes nearly a year after the trial of the Google Gmail service was launched, which came with a 1 GB limit as standard.

A gigabyte of space is clearly far more than 99.9% of users need for day to day use, but it’s great that competition between providers has given us the option anyway. The Yahoo! Mail interface isn’t bad, and looks better than Hotmail’s in my view. Google’s Gmail however beats both alternatives in terms of functionality, ease of use and interface (shown below).

The Gmail service is due to go public any time soon (links have appeared periodically on, but I’ll happily send an invite to anyone yet without an account.

Politicians aren't perfect, yet won't admit it

An interesting article from BusinessWeek, (found via Michael’s econ blog) on France's labour market legislation.

Sophie Guilbaud not only holds a full-time job, she also helps run her son's nursery and treats herself to regular weekdays of shopping, movies and art shows.

The secret to her balancing act is a remarkable piece of social engineering -- France's 35-hour workweek. Introduced under the Socialists but headed for effective abolition by lawmakers Tuesday, "les 35 heures" have been a boon for some but, critics argue, a big drain on the economy.

Heated debate over dismantling the working time law has fed into wider political and literary soul-searching in France, on themes ranging from the country's economic frailty and bureaucratic office culture to whether quality of life should be measured in time or money.

For Guilbaud, a Parisian who works as a loan company manager, that last question is a no-brainer. "Work is not the only thing in my life," she said, suggesting she might quit rather than work more hours.

But with unemployment at 10 percent, politicians of all stripes acknowledge that the country's unique 35-hour law has failed in its original ambition: to force employers to hire massively. What's more, there are strong signs that it hurt living standards as employers froze salaries to make up for lost labor.

Full article here

In an ideal world, perhaps we’d be able to work 35, 30, or even fewer hours whilst having an environment appealing to businesses, lower unemployment, higher growth and a growing standard of living. However as things stand, that doesn’t look likely. That’s not to say it’s impossible; only that government policy is unlikely to make it so.

There’s a certain arrogance amongst politicians when it comes to policy making. They think they have all the information needed to interfere with a system and that their foresight into the results will be accurate. Little thought is given to possible unintended consequences, as shown by what’s happening in France. New policies are boldly put before the electorate, and later down the line, explanations as to why things went wrong are handed out with similar confidence. Of course the blame rarely lies with themselves.

Not that you’ll see anyone in power saying that a given piece of legislation will achieve the intended result with a probability of 10%, 40%, or 70%. Admitting that the future isn’t cut and dry is to admit that they’re only human; and perhaps better off not interfering.

March 2005

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