Monday, 3 May 2010

Tweet-length thoughts (or thereabouts)

I’m not particularly inclined to do any long-form blogging at the moment (here or at OTB), but here are a few random thoughts on issues of the day:

  • I can’t think of any good reason to object to a merger between United and Continental; it’s probably a long shot, but maybe the combined airline will see fit to introduce a flight from here that’s further afield than Houston.

  • I don’t have any better tea leaves than anyone else when it comes to the British election. I watched all three debates (which is three more than I watched during the 2008 U.S. presidential contest) and generally think that LibDem leader Nick Clegg simultaneously came off as the best presence and the most politically naïve, which is just as well since Clegg (unlike, say, David Cameron) will never be a British prime minister. Putting the LibDems in charge of the Home Office would probably be a good idea though. Realistically it seems there’s no way Gordon Brown comes out of this as a real (as opposed to caretaker) PM. Your current Nate Silver guesstimate is here.

  • Predicted constitutional crisis of the week: the Conservatives take a majority of the seats in England but few in Scotland and Wales, and try to muddle through with an overall minority, on the (not unreasonable assertion) that on devolved matters at least the party that won the vote in England should govern, at least on matters of domestic policy where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can go their own way. See also: the West Lothian question. As discussed before, this problem is an icky mess to solve.

  • I probably could extend the discussion above into a lengthy post on electoral reform in Britain and the prospects thereof, but… nah. Complicating matters: each plausible reform is essentially rigged in favor of the party proposing it (IRV/AV favors Labour, STV or “top-up” PR favors the LibDems [and UKIP and the Greens and probably the BNP, Pliad Cymru, and the SNP too, although the latter three are radioactive as potential coalition partners for anyone, and UKIP is borderline], and the current plurality arrangement favors the Tories [and whichever unionist and nationalist faction is on top at the given moment in Northern Ireland, similarly radioactive]), making consensus unlikely.

  • On the one hand, Arizona’s tough new immigration law (as amended) probably still treats illegal immigrants better than they would be in most other countries in the world, including Mexico itself and most Western European societies. On the other hand, I think we probably ought to aspire to higher standards than those countries, even putting aside my crazily-anarcho-libertarian-open-bordernik principles.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Life imitates comedy

Back in my misspent college years, one of my few student activities was working on the student newspaper at Rose-Hulman, the Rose Thorn. Out of boredom—and frankly a frequent lack of real advertising, since we typically gave a local pizza chain a quarter-page ad in exchange for sustenance for the staff, accounting for a sizable chunk of our income—the various people involved in production would frequently insert fake classified ads into the publication. One creation I was personally proud of was a bogus ad for an emerging spring break destination—the various and sundry republics of the former Soviet Union, complete with a fake telephone number (1–8xx-FUN-IN-CIS) to obtain further details. Presumably—hopefully!—the IQs of our readers were sufficiently high that nobody was actually being bothered by obnoxious phone calls looking for information on these exciting tour packages.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may be getting in on the act for real. Frankly I think my fake ads may have turned out to have been more effective in drumming up interest in unorthodox Spring Break destinations. And whatever you do, don”t stay at the Ryugyong even if the doctored pictures in the brochure look nice.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

In print again (sort of)

One of my photos of the Sarah Duke Gardens at Duke University appears in the new edition of Moon Handbooks’ North Carolina guidebook by Sarah Bryan. Alas if I start looking at the free copy of the guidebook I received I may get homesick* for the Carolinas.

* I’m not sure one can get “homesick” for a place that hasn’t really ever been a permanent home, although I’d certainly be happy to go live there—for the right price, of course.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Public retrocranial inversion

Over at OTB today, helping fill in for vacationing James, I discuss PZ Myers’ defacement of a communion wafer.

More asshattery, if you can stand it, in a two thread extravaganza at, where the denizens debate the merits of hidden city ticketing rules, prompted by a Continental gate agent who’s apparently gleeful he helped his employer extract an extra $1800 from a party of customers.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

On the road again

I’m now more-or-less packed for my trip to Laredo to find an apartment; all I have left to do is pack last-minute stuff way too early in the morning. For some reason Delta isn’t letting me check in for my flight online (I think the reservation is messed up in their computers because it was originally booked on a Northwest itinerary so I could use a credit voucher), but I figure that’s not particularly important since I have a seat assignment already and have to check a bag anyway, so it’s not like checking in online will save me much time.

Friday, 23 May 2008

QotD, how to bamboozle the public the right way edition

Hei Lun Chan, in response to American Airlines’ decision to charge $15 per checked bag starting June 15:

They should have just raised prices by $15 then announce a ”$15 off if you don’t check any bags!!!” special.

The ultimate irony is that if they’d just raised each-way fares by $15, it would simply be another “the sky is falling because airfares are finally catching up to inflation for the first time since deregulation” story, but now American is cast in the role of being this side of the pond’s version of notorious buried-fee carrier Ryanair, which apparently combines Southwest’s low-cost business model with the customer service standards of your local DMV branch, at least until another of American’s dwindling band of competitors comes up with an even more boneheaded PR move like adding a cash-only “boarding fee” for use of the jetway to access the aircraft.

Given the ongoing fee-fest at the airlines, somehow trying to keep my elite status on Northwest for 2009 doesn’t seem quite so useless—although given that the only scheduled carriers that can take me anywhere other than Las Vegas from Laredo are American and Continental and driving to San Antonio to save time by avoiding a connection only works for places you can fly non-stop from San Antonio, much of that value is predicated on Continental continuing to honor Northwest status in 2009, which given the potential Northwest-Delta merger seems decidedly uncertain at present.

Monday, 3 September 2007

There and back again

I got back from APSA in Chicago last night, after a relatively uneventful conference; most of the highlights involved locating the best bar specials on Goose Island 312, although I think I had a few good interactions at the meat market and got a couple of leads on other jobs. It was nice seeing a few old friends here and there, mostly all-too-briefly; with the exception of Frequent Commenter Scott and his grad school buddy John, I didn’t spend much time with anyone except Marvin and a few of his grad students at dinner Thursday, and Dirk and his family, who hosted a nice lunch for me and a couple of friends out in the ‘burbs on Sunday. (Particular apologies to Michelle, with whom I only interacted via cell phone.)

Alas, nobody seemed to take me up on my suggestion of creating a scene at the registration desk when their name tag appeared bearing the mark of the beast. One of these days I’ll figure out how to create mass mischief at APSA, but not this year.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Poster presented, time to pack

The poster presentation today went moderately well, all things considered, and a few people indicated interest in seeing the completed paper in the near future. Compared to the other projects on my plate, that may be comparatively easy to do.

The only real extension I want to do for now is to tweak the R simex package to allow the error variances for covariates to be different between observations; I also think I can cleanup the call syntax a bit to make it a bit more “R-like,” but that has less to do with the paper proper—except cleaning up the call syntax will make it easier to implement my tweak.

Since I have a lovely 6 am flight tomorrow, I’ve spent much of the afternoon packing and getting ready for the trip back to St. Louis; I’ll probably wander towards the closing reception in a little while, once everything’s close to organized for the morning.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Hampton Inn ice buckets suck

The ice in my ice bucket this evening lasted less than five hours, and that was with me dumping out the accumulated water twice. This would be slightly less annoying if I didn’t have to traipse upstairs every time I wanted to get more ice because the ice machine on this floor is broken.

Maybe their ice buckets work in North Dakota, but they don’t cut it in New Orleans.

Saturday, 9 June 2007


I’ve now uploaded two sets of photos from Daytona: one general set and a separate set from the Daytona Cubs game I saw Wednesday night.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Comparing Fort Collins and Daytona Beach

For reasons I don’t entirely comprehend, I decided to spend another week of my life grading the free response portion of AP American Government exams; this year, we’re in Daytona Beach, instead of Fort Collins, which is quite a transition.

The accommodations here are much nicer (a beach resort hotel instead of an un-air-conditioned dorm), but the catering here is substantially inferior, particularly for picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions. There’s more to do around the grading site—whether it’s lazing around the beach, taking in a single-A baseball game, or spending an hour or two riding go-karts and playing skee-ball and mini-golf. Indeed, other than the food—something that is easily worked around for a few bucks a day—the only real downside here is that the beer is better in Fort Collins.

Alas, uploading photos will have to wait until I have a more reliable connection, probably when I’m back in St. Louis in a couple of days. The lobby’s free wifi signal carries up to my room somewhat intermittently, and I’m not inclined to sit around the lobby while they all upload.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Ugh, planes again

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend trip to Memphis for the wedding of Frequent Commenter Alfie and his lovely fiancée Annie. I get back Sunday night, then Monday morning I leave for yet another job interview. No rest for the wicked… or at least the aloof.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Flying headscratcher

I’m trying to figure out how to get a flight to a smaller airport with very little mainline jet service (and of course none that’s non-stop from St. Louis, as that would be too easy) in the next week or two. The ideal combination of flights for me is to go on Northwest and come back on either Continental or Delta; the most direct feasible return routing is on Continental. Despite the alleged codesharing alliance among these airlines, the following situation obtains:

  • Northwest will sell me* a ticket that goes on NW, Continental, or Delta, but only returns on NW or Continental, and at least one flight has to be on NW.
  • Continental will only sell me a ticket that is all on Continental, or a bizarre routing that backtracks from Cleveland to Detroit via Northwest.
  • Delta will sell me a ticket that leaves on NW or Delta and returns on NW or Delta; at least one flight has to be on NW.

All will sell me a roundtrip on their airline for about the same price, and Northwest and Delta will sell me a roundtrip using both for that price too, but the roundtrip involving Continental—which works best for my schedule—is $300 more, unless I do it all on Continental. Flying on Continental means all four flights are on regional jets, which admittedly is more fun for me on Continental’s ERJ-135/145s than on Northwest and Delta’s CRJs—but I’d rather be on a mainline jet than either.

On the other hand, I suppose life could be worse and I could not have these sorts of problems.

* I have to pay for the ticket, but I will get reimbursed—in theory at least.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Chicago, Chicago

I just got back from the Midwest conference in Chicago; Frequent Commenter Scott and I shared a rather palatial room on the nosebleed level—at a price significantly below the conference rate to boot. I can say that all three panels I participated in were intellectually stimulating and full of intriguing papers, the choices of food and beverage destinations by FCS were all excellent, it was great to catch up with a few Signifying Nothing groupies readers in the discipline, and Southwest Airlines did its usual quality job of shuffling my derrière from point A to point B with minimal fuss. Given my time constraints on Wednesday, I had to abandon my earlier plan of riding the train, although the CTA did get a healthy chunk of change from me while in Chicago (to/from Midway and on our gastronomic touring).

Now I just need to track down a local source for 312 and Honker’s Ale.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be a libertarian

So, I have this job interview… and the university in question decides to use a car service instead of having a department member shuttle me to/from the airport, which a perfectly rational decision on their part—and probably better for candidates’ sanity anyway, but nobody asked us what we think of being interrogated by a search committee member just minutes after enduring airline hell. But I digress.

Anyway, I arrive at the airport and get in the guy’s van, and I get to spend an hour listening to the guy’s treatise on the global monetary system (his issues with debasing the currency, fiat money, the whole nine yards). He drops me off and I go on my merry way. Same guy picks me up after the interview and, in the course of the airport journey, asks me if I’ve thought about 2008 and I try to steer the conversation to about the driest, most academic discussion of front-loading known to man. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work—and at this point, the driver tells me in no uncertain terms that the only candidate for 2008 who’s a “real American” is Ron Paul (his distinct lack of popularity—like the low prices of gold and silver the previous day—being attributed to The Man keeping him down).

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Long layover

My connecting flight from Memphis to St. Louis last night was canceled, so I got to spend the day today with mom and my step-dad before flying out this evening. While I was in town, Mom and I went to see Blades of Glory, which was highly amusing.

I also had the distinct displeasure of having a relatively well-known political scientist go after me for having the temerity to treat Daron Shaw’s measure of campaign resource allocation as valid. I’m not sure if I scored any points by standing my ground or not, to be honest—I pointed out that it appeared in a top-3 journal, so presumably the reviewers lent some credence to the measure; that Shaw was a tenured professor at the University of Texas, so presumably he wasn’t an idiot; and that his results were consistent with other scholars’ measures.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Brush with greatness

On one of my flights headed to my latest job interview, my seat was directly in front of one occupied by Sandra Bullock, who I wouldn’t have recognized in a million years (except that her travel companion, whoever he was, seemed to make a point of announcing her name to people). I do have to say that without professional makeup and in jeans and a sweatshirt, she basically looked like any moderately attractive 40-year-old brunette of average height and weight (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The trials and tribulations of the elite and ex-elite

An anonymous writer (but my money is on Megan McArdle) has a hysterically funny post up at Free Exchange that mercilessly takes the piss out of this New York Times article relating the sad stories of Ms. Elizabeth Davidson, who recently lost her gold elite status with US Airways, and other newly-plebeian air travelers.

In related news, first-class passengers on a flight from India to Britain were upset when British Airways recently had the temerity to move a dead passenger into the first class cabin. Presumably they would have preferred the airline leave the passenger in steerage economy.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

First Frontier

I had my first experience flying with Frontier Airlines today, and I have to say it was most pleasant. Of course, it helped matters that my second flight of the day from Denver to St. Louis was probably 50% empty and the plane was a practically brand-new Airbus A318—it certainly beat the crap out of being squished in a United Express regional jet with drunken yahoos sitting in the row behind me, even accounting for the $29 upgrade to Economy Plus so I could actually use my tray table.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

An allegory for our times (particularly in Debian)

On my flight from St. Louis to Denver today (not my final destination, mind you), I had the distinct displeasure of sitting right in front of three or four half-loaded idiots on their way to some sort of ski vacation in Colorado, who engaged in the following obnoxious behaviors, among others:

  • Repeatedly hitting the flight attendant call button.
  • Using the word “fuck” liberally in conversation, usually 3–4 times per sentence.
  • Having an extended discussion of airplane crashes.
  • Asking the flight attendant repeatedly if they could smoke aboard the aircraft.

While their level of obnoxiousness probably didn’t rise to the level at which I would have supported them being hogtied by an air marshal, hauled off to Gitmo, or forcibly ejected from the aircraft at altitude, in large part because my in-canal earphones and some additional volume on the iPod effectively muted them for about 3/4 of the flight, I can’t imagine I would have put up much of an objection to any or all of these actions—and idly contemplated taking such actions myself.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Light reading

I picked up the current issue of Critical Review at Borders while I was on my book quest—I was trolling the shelves and happened to notice that “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics” by Philip Converse was listed as the first article, which struck me as a little strange (for the uninitiated, it was published first as a book chapter in 1964). The rest of the articles look pretty good too. If I could afford it, I’d buy up a dozen copies and hold onto them until the next time I teach public opinion or voting behavior. (Who am I kidding? I’m going to be working at an Arby’s next fall…)

That, however, I won’t be reading on the plane. Instead, for distraction from the mortal terror and physical pain associated with hurtling through the air at 500 mph with 18-inch buttocks squeezed in a 17-inch-wide seat, I picked up a copy of ESPN The Magazine with an article by Bruce Feldman chronicling Ole Miss’ football signing period, no doubt laced with Orgeron-speak; Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, because I enjoyed The Tipping Point; and A Practical Handbook for the Boyfriend by Felicity Huffman and Patricia Wolff, because hope springs eternal (and it was on sale).

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

I fly too much

Last night in a hotel room in an undisclosed location, I was lying in bed and my inner ear was telling me I was still on an airplane.

In related news, I’ve got two more invitations for interviews, just in case my equilibrium wasn’t shot to hell already. Already, I think I’ve taught more sessions of other professors’ classes than some of my own this semester.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

There may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six exits from this plane

Jetlag and dehydration. Ugh. And it gets worse before it gets better.

The highlight of my day today, by far, was waiting 10+ minutes for someone to wait on me at a Mexican restaurant at BWI. Finally I walked out and got some pizza elsewhere. At least the flight attendants on Southwest were nice.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Heat and light

As expected, Texas (at least this little corner of it) is a bit warmer than St. Louis today—and tomorrow looks to be positively nice. Now I’m waiting on the second attempt to get dinner tonight—the pizza place somehow managed to get completely the wrong room number for their initial delivery, and I’ve been starving in my hotel room for nearly three hours now.

In retrospect, I should have taken the search committee member up on his offer to take me somewhere after his previous engagement—even though I would have missed seeing Earl and The Office. Live and learn.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Think warm thoughts

All that’s keeping me going today is knowing it will be nearly 70 degrees on Friday, at least for me.