Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy (very belated) Tau Day!

Happy Tau Day!

I am an unabashed Tauist, and have been since the day, several years ago, when a professor named Bob Palais gave a presentation on pi day that the value of pi is wrong.  I won't go into detail, because it's given nicely in the Tau Manifesto, but the argument rests on the fact that, mathematically, we always define a circle as the collection of points a given radius from a given point--but pi, as we know it, is defined using the diameter.  As a result, the value "2 pi" is strewn about all mathematics, and we have counter-intuitive ideas like "half of pi is a quarter of a circle".  The manifesto also gives good reasons why we should name the correct constant "tau".

Well, a few weeks ago, my wife sent me a link from Yahoo! news about a touch of rebellion in the mathematical community.  Apparently, the use of tau is beginning to gain traction!  I look forward to the day when we could be free of the tyranny of the false constant.

In any case, I apologize for delaying this post:  It took me a few days to get to my wife's link, and it took a few days after that to realize that the reason why the story came up was because of Tau Day--June 28.  I'm also not used to celebrating special days for numbers; ironically, too, the first Pi Day I attended challenged the very legitimacy of Pi itself!

(And for the record, on my first Pi Day, I didn't technically become a Tauist:  at the time, Bob Palais suggested a "three-legged" pi symbol that had no clear name to represent the One True Constant.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Fun Independence Day Weekend

I found it amusing to learn that of a study that claimed that Democrats don't benefit from Independence Day celebrations.  I didn't give politics much thought this weekend, but I can understand why this is.

On both Saturday and Monday, my family and I visited "Colonial Days" in two different cities.  Tents were set up so that individuals could demonstrate all sorts of aspects of Colonial life.  We saw candles being made, discussed the fine (and gruesome) arts of surgery, played Nine Man's Morris, saw wool spun into yarn and weaved into cloth.  In a booth full of muskets, I talked to my daughter about how to load a flintlock, and what a bayonet was for.  One presentation discussed how well-aimed cannon fire literally reduced entire regiments of Confederate soldiers to pink mist.  We saw displays about the Mayflower and the local Indians.  My children even attended a Colonial school.

 A local museum had copies of the Declaration of Independence, artifacts of the dual between Arron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, and other artifacts related to American culture; another museum showed the history of the printing press, starting with a replica of Gutenberg's original press.

My children had the opportunity to be frightened by musket fire and cannon fire, as minutemen performed their ceremonies; and in the end, my oldest daughter wanted to be a "Colonial".  I have no idea how to do that, but I'd like to be involved, too!

Amusingly, a person demonstrating how to cast bullets over an open fire had a discussion with an observer about how awful our current regulations are--unintentionally echoing the types of conversations likely happening in 1775.

And while we missed the parade, we saw plenty of fireworks, both on Saturday (we watched "Stadium of Fire" fireworks from the grass at a local park) and Monday (our neighbors had a fantastic fireworks display, complimented by newly-legalized "shooting" fireworks lit around the neighborhood).

I couldn't imagine a better celebration of freedom and independence!

And that's the problem that Democrats face:  while I wouldn't consider the Republican Party to be a bastion of freedom, it certainly pays more lip service to freedom than the Democrat Party does.  Thus, any holiday that celebrates freedom is bound to favor the Republican Party--to the extent that anyone is thinking about politics as well.

I would confess that this holiday didn't reinforce my love for my country.  It reinforced my love of freedom, and a greater appreciation for the time period that this love became entrenched into our country.  Thus, it reaffirmed my desire to help us be more free.

And it's a reminder that I'm happy to be alive, and to be free!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Brief Summary of Austrian Bubble Theory

Several months ago--perhaps even a couple of years, now--I came across a simple, but incredibly insightful, explanation for the business cycle--the booms and busts that we've come to accept as a way of life.  I cannot remember precisely where I read it first, but it was likely in the book Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises.  I would like to take a moment to summarize this theory, because I'll be using it in future posts.

To understand why we have "booms" and "busts", we first need to understand that societies advance technologically by saving for the future.  If I were on a desert island, for example, I might have to spend most of my time fishing, just to get enough to eat--but if I dried a little bit of fish each day, I can save enough up to take a week off from fishing to make a net, which I could use to more quickly catch fish, and then have more free time to pursue other activities.  Step by step, then, my standard of living increases.

Now, I don't live on an island, so I don't necessarily have to save up money in order to take this step.  I could find someone willing to loan me their savings.  Of course, I take a bit of risk in doing so, because if things fall through, I have to pay things back despite losing everything, and I won't be able to save as much money for the next major project; on the other hand, I might also succeed, and be ready to fund the next project!  And, if debt can be used to push the boundaries of our standard of living, then it's obvious that, if we could make debt easier to obtain, we'll push those boundaries even faster, right?

It is this last step--making debt easier to acquire--that we start pumping up economic bubbles.  If I'm interested in building a factory, for example, and I don't have enough savings, I'll look at the loans and say, "hey, at this interest rate, I'll be able to afford it!"  Unfortunately, everyone else looking to expand their operations are making to same conclusions, and so they are taking out loans as well.  This leads to inflation, and so the loans don't cover the costs--in which case, I'll have to ask myself "Should I get another loan, or should I cut my losses and give up on my factory?" and, at some point, I'm going to realize it's time to cut my losses, and I'll have to leave my factory half-built.  The economic bubble bursts when a large number of people reach this conclusion.

Sadly, when this happens, we don't go back to the level we started before the bubble burst:  we're actually worse off.  Savings have been expended, and we have to pay off loans.  Workers have to be re-trained.  Factories are empty; they may even need to be converted, or perhaps torn down.  Unemployment is going to be higher while we shuffle everything around.

Admittedly, I am not an economist.  If you pointed me to a given bubble pop, I would not be able to identify all the factors that lead to it--at least, not without some research first.  It should be kept in mind, though, that throughout the history of America, politicians almost always thought we "need" artificially low interest rates; thus, this potential cause for disaster is always humming away in the background.