Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Sorry for the radio silence. I've accepted a position at a new company and, before I start, the wife and I are traveling. Back to the real world (and posting) soon. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Which is the world's most successful country?

Building off of this post, I've added employment rates (in %) for those from 25-54 years old and have come up with this table, which ranks various rich countries by several key indicators (click to zoom):

This doesn't get discussed much (although here's one recent post), but note how the US has the lowest employment ratio for those form 25-54 years old. Note that we're talking about employment here and not unemployment. On the right, the overall rank column is a ranking of the sums of the individual ranks. Note that, according to these metrics, the most successful countries in the world (in order) are Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Japan, and Switzerland. Overall, it appears that any talk of the US moving toward European-style tax rates isn't necessarily a bad thing. Northern Europe, with their large social safety net, appears to be doing something very right. In fact, I might try to convince the dear wife that a trip to Iceland is in order.

Source notes:

1. Number of deaths between birth and age 1 per 1000 live births in 2012. Data here.

2. Maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. Data here.

3. Number of deaths of people between 15 and 60 years of age per 1000 population for 2012. Data here.

4. Life expectancy at birth (in years). Data here.

5. Prisoners per 100,000 population. Data here.

6. Employment rate (%) for those 25-54 years old for 2013. OECD countries here (table 3) and Singapore here (chart 17).

Monday, June 16, 2014

Red meat: So delicious but so many reasons not to eat it

Coming via Matt Yglesias, the Environmental Working Group put together the following chart, which tallies up the amount of CO2 emissions associated with producing a kilogram of various types of food:

Whether it's for health, moral, or environmental reasons, it appears eating less lamb and beef is a responsible thing to do. Interesting how the benefits can come along so many different axes. The jury is still out, however, on how my family's love of California Burger will change as a result.

Note: when reading part of Thoreau's Walden recently, I came across this related passage (page 164):
It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed when we feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table. Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you. It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery. Most men would feel shame if caught preparing with their own hands precisely such a dinner, whether of animal or vegetable food, as is every day prepared for them by others. Yet till this is otherwise we are not civilized, and, if gentlemen and ladies, are not true men and women. This certainly suggests what change is to be made. It may be vain to ask why the imagination will not be reconciled to flesh and fat. I am satisfied that it is not. Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable way—as any one who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn—and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dave Chappelle explains why high marginal tax rates are great

Here's the description from the Upshot:
Dave Chappelle, the comedian who walked away from a wildly successful TV show named for him a decade ago, made his first talk show appearance in ages Tuesday night. He probably wasn’t intending to make an argument about maximizing the efficiency of the tax system in his appearance on the “Late Show With David Letterman,” but that’s what he ended up doing.
Mr. Chappelle discussed the reported $50 million contract he walked away from when he abruptly ended “The Chappelle Show.” Does the loss of all that money haunt him?
“So I look at it like this,” Mr. Chappelle said. “I’m at a restaurant with my wife. It’s a nice restaurant. We’re eating dinner. I look across the room and I say: ‘You see this guy, over here across the room? He has $100 million. And we’re eating the same entree. So, O.K., fine, I don’t have the $50 million or whatever it was, but say I have $10 million in the bank.’ The difference in lifestyle is minuscule.”
His point is about the diminishing marginal utility of rising wealth. If you are flat broke and somebody gives you $1 million, that money significantly increases your quality of life. Going from $1 million to $10 million makes you better off, though probably not 10 times better off. And similarly, going from $10 million to $50 million in net worth creates far less improvement in your quality of life than those early steps of going from broke to $1 million or $1 million to $10 million.
The video of Chappele explaining this is here. Indeed, one of the greatest things about higher marginal tax rates is the marginal utility of wealth. In other words, raising taxes on rich people isn't a zero sum game, because transferring one dollar from a millionaire to a poor person helps the latter much more than it hurts the former.

As Matt Yglesias puts it, "the difference, in welfare terms, between a Sub-Zero refrigerator and an Ikea refrigerator is much smaller than the difference in welfare terms between having health insurance and not having health insurance."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where the jobs are in and around SLC

Just a quick note today. Has job sprawl made suburban job access as good as for those living closer to the CBD? According to data from here, that doesn't appear to be the case. Here I'll show what they call the Employment Access Index for Salt Lake County:

It appears that in SLC proper, South Salt Lake, west Millcreek, and even much of Murray have about twice as many jobs per square mile as most of South Jordan and Riverton. The suburban cities of Draper, Midvale, West Valley City, Sandy, and Cottonwoods Heights appear to fall in the middle of the SL County pack in terms of job density.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The fuel efficiency of air travel

The dear wife and I took a 737-800 to Phoenix en route to Orange County over the weekend. If you haven't taken a Southwest flight recently, they're flying many new ~2 year old 737s, which really enhance the flying experience compared with older planes. While I'll go into this more later, I just wanted to note how fuel efficient flying is these days. From here, I find that Southwest's new "737-800 burns 4.88 US gallons (18.5 L) of fuel per seat per hour." Since the plane's cruising speed is 514 mph, that means each seat (or person) gets ~105 miles per gallon when flying on this plane (i.e. 514/4.88). Not too shabby for one person whose contemplating driving over taking a plane. However, if four people are piling into a Prius instead of driving, the calculus changes. Suddenly, the flight is about 26 miles per gallon for the group (105/4) and the car would be around 50 miles per gallon.

Note also that aircraft emissions (due to their altitude) affect the climate more than equivalent emissions from vehicles, although it's hard to nail down by how much.

Friday, June 6, 2014

SLC's World Refugee Day celebrations are tomorrow

For those of you looking for something interesting to check out in SLC tomorrow, World Refugee Day celebrations are going on at Liberty Park. An interesting local event and a great cause.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Where to get your weather forecast

From a Nate Silver profile in the New Republic:
At the National Weather Service—one of the least appreciated services that the federal government provides—meteorologists make use of both computational power and their own judgment to arrive at forecasts. The meteorologists’ judgments, according to data from the agency, result in precipitation forecasts that are about 25 percent more accurate, and temperature forecasts that are about 10 percent more accurate, than the computer results alone. Improved forecasts have real human benefit; the National Hurricane Center can now do what it was unable to do twentyfive years ago: make predictions three days in advance of where a hurricane will make landfall that are accurate enough to enable people to evacuate in time.
But some weather forecasts are less accurate because of judgments by forecasters who have other motivations. Most Americans do not get weather forecasts directly from the National Weather Service; they receive them instead from commercial services such as AccuWeather and the Weather Channel, and also from local TV stations, which tailor the government data to their own needs. According to Silver, the forecasts of the National Weather Service are well-calibrated: when it forecasts a 40 percent chance of rain, it actually does rain 40 percent of the time. The Weather Channel, in contrast, has a slight “wet bias.” When there is a 5 percent chance of rain, it says that the odds are 20 percent because people are angry at a forecaster when they leave home without an umbrella and get soaked, whereas they are delighted when they take an umbrella and the sun shines. But it’s at the local level that forecasts get seriously distorted. According to a study of Kansas City stations, the local weathermen provide much worse forecasts than the National Weather Service and are unashamed about it. (“Accuracy is not a big deal,” one of them said.) Again, television does not reward accuracy because ratings come first.
Indeed, the weather forecasting coming from local TV news outlets as well as the Weather Channel is generally held in disdain by those in university atmospheric science departments. Nate's great book, the Signal and the Noise has much more on these and other types of prediction. Note that iOS gets its weather info from the Weather Channel (via Yahoo). This is easily solved, however, as one can add a desktop icon for your local forecast from the National Weather Service.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Checking in with Lyft and Uber in SLC

I had a great Lyft experience over the weekend, which I'll have to detail soon. In the meanwhile, however, I wanted to check in with how Lyft and Uber availability compares in SLC as of this morning.

Note that both Lyft and Uber are showing availability in Salt Lake City proper this morning. As has been the case since the Uber launch, Lyft consistently shows greater availability near the central business district. I can't tell, however, if that's because Lyft has more drivers there or if the free rides Uber is giving away are keeping its drivers constantly busy.

Here's how to get up to 20 free Uber rides through June 9th.

Here's how to get a free Lyft ride.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Delicious $15 dinners for two in SLC

Moochies being Moochies
Ever since we did the post about $10 dinners for two in SLC, we've wanted to put together a list of places suited for $15 dinners. Well, after much deliberation we've come up with what we think is a pretty stellar list.

1) Moochies -- This place stole our heart last year and the relationship has only gotten more intimate. We love them for their meatball and philly cheese sandwiches as well as their perfectly crispy, battered french fries. The Italian sausage sandwich is also worthy of attention. For a large sandwich sandwich, fries, and a drink it's ~$14-15 and the sandwich is certainly enough for two people. They're at 232 E 800 S or 7725 S State. One trick is that instead of the soda, one can get an extra portion of fries (which we'd recommend) or a choice of several other goodies. Here they are on Yelp and Google.

2) Ali Baba -- While I always find Indian food to be weirdly expensive, Ali Baba breaks the mold and provides delicious Pakastani/Indian fare at a very reasonable price. The samosas here are large and quite delicious. They also provide very solid and tasty portions of classics such as tikka masala, chicken korma, balti chicken, dal, and other lentil-based dishes. The very large menu is here. The garlic naan is also tasty and cheap. One can get samosas or naan and a meat-based dish (to share) for ~$15. Get a veggie dish with both the naan and samosas for ~$15. One tip with this place is that the atmosphere isn't the best (and I don't have high standards). The food's also prepared from scratch and may take a bit, so one would probably be best served by calling ahead and picking up the food to go. 2646 S 700 E. On Yelp here and Google here.

3) Pie Hole -- Pizza has always presented a conundrum. It's hard to get on the cheap for dinner, but often so so delicious. My wife and I were delighted to find that the Pie Hole solves this problem, as the pizza is great and it's sold by the slice at night (unlike the Pie). That makes for a winning value combination and we're excited about it. It's also a great spot for late night eats, which SLC isn't great at providing. Pie Hole is open till 2AM even during the week. Six slices can be had for ~$15. 344 S State. Yelp/Google.

4) Siegfried's -- Siegfried's proves to be an exceptional value in terms of the food. Think delicious bratwurst, schnitzel, goulash, spaetzle, and hot potato salad. While this is a delicatessen, we think it still makes for a great date spot, as it's in the middle of downtown and has ample seating, some of it far from the counter. If you've never had spaetzle, this is a great place to try it. At Siegfried's it's basically noodles and brown gravy. Need I say more? A bonus here is that most entrees come with two sides, which lets one try many of the dishes. Two entrees will run you ~$15. If you're coming for dinner, note that it's open till 9PM Thu-Sat and only till 6PM Mon-Wed. 20 W 200 S. Menu here. Yelp/Google.

5) Guero's  -- This place is all about tortas and juice and flies very much under the radar. The tortas (we usually do al pastor and milanesa) each offer unique and impressive tastes, are full of fresh ingredients, and came on delicious bread. Juices come in what seemed like a gallon-size glasses and are fresh, chilled, and delicious (we love the cantaloupe). The owner of the restaurant is super nice and is usually surprised when we come to sit down and eat (he always thinks we're there for the bakery, which is also delicious). Two tortas and juice should run your $15 and change. 261 E 3300 S. Menu is here.

Guero's torta
Guero's juice

Enjoy, and let us know your favorite cheap and delicious dinners in SLC!