Building models (info or economic) in your spare time

I enjoyed reading Hal Varian's paper How to Build an Economic Model in Your Spare Time. It succinctly describes how to build a theoretical model for how a system may work, from getting the idea, to testing it out, to improving it. It requires you to have a little ambition and a little less ego. At the end, he summarizes his major points, and it strikes me that this is also a good way for any student or academician in any discipline to grow intellectually and think bigger thoughts.

  • Look for ideas in the world, not in journals.
  • First make your model as simple as possible, then generalize it.
  • Look at the literature later, not sooner.
  • Model your paper after your seminar. (Varian recommends leading a seminar on your model, which forces you to get your ideas in shape so your presentation both educates and entertains your audience.)
  • Stop when you've made your point.

Of course, he goes into greater detail on these and other points, but I really liked the first one: read magazines to get an idea of the ideas and problems that are in the air. That appeals to my pragmatic side.

And since I'm a total software geek, I also enjoyed reading how he uses his computer to write his papers. At the time of the writing (the last update was in 1997) he used UNIX, kept a notes.txt file to contain ideas, thoughts, an outline, and in general used this file similarly to Mark Forster's idea of continuous revision. Only after he's collected ideas for weeks and months does he move to writing a first draft of the paper or chapter. He also uses UNIX's rcs for a revision control system.

Insofar as his idea of writing notes from audience or seminar Q&As, I'd suggest you use either a tape recorder or get a volunteer to write the questions and comments down for you.

Welcome to Eltingville on Adult Swim Video

Welcome to Eltingville, the pilot based on the Eltingville Club strips from Dork, can be seen on the Adult Swim Video site for the next few days. Here’s the pilot, if you are interested.

The viewers have given the episode a rating of 4 out of 10, which is a whole lotta ouch. I looked at a few minutes of it and while it didn’t make me feel overtly proud, it certainly didn’t make me nauseous. I’d give it a 7. Your mileage may vary. Like, a 2 or something.

Yeesh. A goddamned 4 from the…


Welcome to Eltingville on Adult Swim Video

234 - “Slumless, Smokeless Cities”


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Take that, Harry Beck. Try as you might, the lines on your Tube map could never be as straight as this.

Beck schematised a transportation system that was completely irregularly laid out to begin with. This map, however, shows how planning ahead would enable not just symmetry, but also better living conditions, or as the map itself states: “Slumless, Smokeless Cities”.

The map was drawn up by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), the father of the garden city movement. Howard believed…


234 - “Slumless, Smokeless Cities”

WIlliam Gaines On "To Tell The Truth" via Classic Television Showbiz

Classic Television Showbiz, a blog run by Kliph Nesteroff, is far and away one of my favorite sites on the World Wide Wasteland. As the name implies, it’s all about that vast wasteland we know and love/loathe called television. More to the point, it’s about old clips from TV, culled from the even vaster wasteland known as Youtube, featuring a bevy of celebrity heavy hitters, also-rans and complete obscurities who polluted the airwaves during, oh, let’s say the 50’s up through the 80’s….


WIlliam Gaines On “To Tell The Truth” via Classic Television Showbiz

I Ching, or Yijing

Dragons fight in the meadow.
Their blood is black and yellow.

I have been throwing hexagrams for a week now, and trying to understand the I Ching. I have only the barest understanding of what is going on, but even so, they have been wildly, almost frighteningly, accurate at representing what’s going on in my life at the time. Today I was very pleased to throw 2. K’un, The Receptive

On the recommendation of my Doctor of Chinese Medicine, who has been studying with the I Ching for almost…


I Ching, or Yijing