Monthly Archives: May 2007

Survivorship bias

A long overdue followup:
After this thread on Econbrowser, I stumbled (randomly) on the term which seems to match what I was trying to get across, which is basically in the Peak Oil case:

We are the result of a bunch of transitions, all successful, from a lower-density energy source to a higher-density energy source. Many other societies which could not find a higher-density energy source ended up in overshoot and collapsed – but, of course, they aren’t around to serve as a cautionary example.
Path bias.
There’s not any guarantee that an economically feasible energy source even at petroleum’s energy density is out there waiting for us. Nuclear + major battery improvements, for instance, doesn’t even cut it; nor does anything using hydrogen as its energy store.
Physics trumps economics.

The term is survivorship bias and it usually arises in the world of finance, but has applications elsewhere. In short, if the things you’re studying are those that survived previous transitions/calamities/events/whatever, you may either have an inaccurately high rating of the current ‘survivors’ or you may assume that all such transitions are successfully navigated.
In the Peak Oil case, this fallacy rears its ugly head as people bring up “well, we survived Peak Wood and Peak Horse and Peak Whale”. But there were societies that did not survive, because they didn’t find a higher-density energy substitute in time. We just don’t hear about them, because they aren’t AROUND anymore. They overshot their resources and didn’t find an alternative, and they died out.

Real Baking

New link: The Art of Gluten-Free Cooking, a blog containing recipes and stories about gluten-free cooking from my sister-in-law Karen.
Forgot to link this way back when and was reminded after eating some very delicious desserts she baked for my mother-in-law’s amazing retirement party at the Headliners’ Club (which was itself arranged and donated by her and her husband). My wife and her family all have trouble with celiac disease to varying degrees; and these recipes will make eating gluten-free not only tolerable (which the off-the-shelf stuff rarely is) but often delicious. I loved all three desserts and would have gone back for more if I was able to exercise anymore. Man, they were fabulous.

Brewster, you’re wrong

“I don’t believe this is the right land use for this location. This is not about an anti Wal-Mart thing. It’s about whether a store that produces this much traffic belongs on a four-lane Anderson Lane as opposed to on a highway. But we have been told consistently two things. One is that we do not have the power to take down or disapprove this site plan and the second is that if we try to do it we’re on our own in a subsequent lawsuit.”—Council Member Brewster McCracken.

Most Wal-Marts outside Texas are on major arterial roadways(*). Some are 6 lanes, some are 4 lanes. Many, such as the one closest to my parents’ house in South Florida, are miles away from the nearest ‘highway’(**). Only in Texas do we stupidly build major retail and employment destinations on frontage roads, which act as barriers to travel for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. Pay special attention to the impossibility of providing cost-effective high-quality transit service on frontage roads. Pushing Wal-Marts back out to frontage roads is a step backwards, not forwards.
(* – Try Wal-Mart’s store-finder on a zip code for a major metropolitan area outside Texas. Plug addresses into Google Maps. I guarantee you will see that, outside Texas, nearly zero Wal-Marts can be directly accessed from a frontage road — and most are accessed directly from roads very similar to Burnet Rd. and Anderson Lane. Example here. Be careful to plug all the addresses into Google Maps – many roads with “Hwy” in the name are in fact just major arterials – with frequent traffic lights, cross streets, etc. For instance, the Wal-Mart in Delray Beach, when accessed from the closest ‘highway’, requires a drive of about 2 miles on one major arterial roadway, then a turn onto a second major arterial roadway, then a short drive, and then another turn into the store lot.)
(** – ‘highway’ is a definition not frequently used by transportation planners. The common usage here in Texas would be either freeways – with or without frontage roads – or rural routes with limited cross traffic – neither one of which obviously includes Burnet Rd or Anderson Lane, although Burnet at one point in history was a ‘highway’. In my case, I prefer to use the limitation of access as the qualifier – since the roads here in Austin which people want to keep the big boxes out on are essentially all limited-access roadways with frontage roads).
You can also use this “plug the address into Google Maps” process to disprove the fallacy that a Wal-Mart at Northcross would be particularly close to single-family residences. For instance, consider this one in West Boca Raton. (Yes, “Hwy” in the name, but look at the satellite image and you see it’s a major arterial roadway – lots of cross streets and traffic lights).

Yes, We Can Be This Dumb

The upcoming rewrite of CAFE (fuel economy regulations) will actually incent carmakers to produce larger, heavier, vehicles than they do today. The Truth About Cars has the scoop here.
For those who think that higher gas prices will force people to change their behavior without us having to unwind existing subsidies towards suburban sprawl and automobile use – remember to factor in the political imperative to protect GM, Ford, and Chrysler. If anything, we’re likely to see even MORE counterproductive rules like these as gas gets more and more expensive. I wouldn’t bet against an actual gasoline subsidy (or elimination of the far-too-low-to-pay-the-road-bills gas tax, at least) in the next few years.
Hint: STUFF LIKE THIS IS WHY WE NEED AS MANY TOLL ROADS AS POSSIBLE.

This is what is SUPPOSED to happen

From the Centre Daily Times in relation to the fight the homers are trying to pretend didn’t mean anything

Sloane said prosecutors had no evidence that King’s entry into the West College Avenue apartment was malicious and no evidence that he hurt anyone or damaged anything.
“As a matter of fact, we have evidence to the contrary,” Sloane said.
He said King was seen trying to pull people out of the apartment. After the melee ended, Sloane said, King stayed at the scene and tried to apologize to the apartment residents.

A lot of homer idiots keep bringing up the Rashard Casey affair to prove that we shouldn’t expect Paterno or the administration to impose any sports-related sanctions on the posse that broke in and beat down. After all, they say, Casey was proven innocent of criminal charges. I draw a very different conclusion here: Casey stood by while his friend beat an off-duty cop into the hospital. He did nothing to stop him; he didn’t leave; he just didn’t throw any of the punches.
Justin King did what he was supposed to do. This is what Rashard Casey didn’t do when his friend beat the living daylights out of an off-duty cop. Promote this kid to captain, pronto.