The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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For a big reason that I'll announce tomorrow afternoon, I've just ordered what may turn out to be the last desktop computer I'll ever buy. I think this may be true because (a) I've ordered a box that kicks proportionately more ass than any computer I've bought before; (b) each of my last three computers was in use for more than two years (though the one I bought in 2009 would probably have lived longer had I not dumped a bowl of chicken soup on it); and (c) each of the previous 2-year-old computers was replaced by an incrementally-better one, not a hugely-better one.

The new computer will have a 6-core Xeon E5-2620 2.4 GHz processor, 40 GB (!!!) of 2133 MHz ECC RAM, a 512-GB SSD boot drive and a 2-TB data drive, and an nVidia Quadro K620 video card. It replaces a laptop running a Core i7 2.4 GHz processor with 12 GB of RAM and a single 512-GB SSD augmented by a portable 2-TB data drive that runs through a USB 3.0 port. And whatever onboard video Dell stuck in there.

I'm going to disclose the total cost of this machine because I've just calculated the costs of several other boxes I've bought over the years against the consumer price index. It's a crude measurement, and probably overstates inflation when applied to technology, but it does give you an idea of how things changed over time. Here, then, are a few of my older computers—just the ones I used as my principal, daily machines, not servers:

Bought Config, Processor, Ram, HDD $ then $ now
Mar 2016 Desktop, Xeon 6C 2.4 GHz, 40 GB, 512 GB SSD + 2TB Data $3406 $3406
Dec 2013 Laptop, Core i7 2.4, 12 GB, 512 GB SSD $1706 $1737
Nov 2011 Laptop, Core i5 2.2 GHz, 8 GB, 256 GB SSD $795 $833
Nov 2009 Laptop, Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz, 4 GB, 250 GB $923 $1012
Oct 2008 Desktop, Xeon 4C 2.0 GHz, 8 GB, 146 GB $1926 $2109
Feb 2007 Laptop, Centrino 2.0 GHz, 2 GB, 160 GB $2098 $2445
Jun 2005 Laptop, Pentium M 2.8 GHz, 2 GB, 60 GB $1680 $2048
Oct 2003 Laptop, Pentium M 1.4 GHz, 1 GB, 60 GB $1828 $2343
Oct 2002 Laptop, Pentium 4 1.7 GHz, 512 MB, 40 GB $2041 $2669
Mar 1999 Desktop, Pentium 3 500 MHz, 256 MB, 20 GB $2397 $3445
May 1995 Desktop, Nx 586 90 MHz, 32 MB, 850 MB $2206 $3437
Oct 1991 Desktop, 80386 33 MHz, 4 MB, 240 MB $2689 $4640

Obviously cost alone doesn't line up with value. Even in the last 5 years the computers have gotten better, despite the flattening-out of Moore's Law. I mean, the software development environment I work in would barely function in 4 gigabytes of RAM, and yet that's what I was using as recently as October 2011. Going farther down the list to the first computer I ever bought, in October 1991, yes it really did have 4 megabytes of RAM (1,024 times less), but that was just fine for Windows 3.1 back then.

Is the new computer going to change my life? Not a lot, though it will significantly cut compile-and-run times while I'm coding (and slightly increase my electric bill). And yet in 10 years I probably won't even have a desktop computer anymore, because I'll be doing my job on some other kind of device. I mean, when I got the Pentium 4 laptop in 2002 for $2,700 in today's dollars, I could hardly have predicted that 10 years later l would get about the same power and storage space in a mobile phone for 20% of the cost.

There are two other computers on the list whose prices I don't really know, because they were gifts, but they're worth mentioning. In 1986 I got a hand-me-down IBM PC with a 1 MHz 8088 processor, 640 kB of RAM, and two 5.25-inch floppy drives. I believe that computer originally cost about $9,000, which would be about $22,000 today. Then, in 1988, I got a hand-me-down Toshiba T3100 "laptop" that weighed about 7 kg and came with a 12 MHz 80286 processor, still 640 kB of RAM, and had a huge 20 MB hard drive. That one cost (I believe) about $2,500 new, or $5,100 today. And that 20 MB drive? That's 1/2,048th the storage space of the working RAM that my new box will have.

Still, every time I've bought a computer, I've outgrown it in less than three years. This time I hope I'm getting enough computer to make it four.

What's wrong with Chicago?

In the wake of last week's news that Chicago lost close to 0.2% of its population last year, Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton says it's not too bad here:

Maybe it's time to face the truth: Chicago has been in a downward spiral lately and our reputation is tarnished. We've slipped in a lot of crucial areas and moved to the top of the heap in several areas where we'd prefer not to compete.

For example, we recently learned that our beloved Willis Tower — or Sears Tower as Chicagoans still insist on calling it — had been kicked off the list of the top 10 tallest buildings in the world. We were barely hanging on to the last spot, when Shanghai Tower came in and knocked us to No. 11.

We conceded a once fierce battle with Atlanta for the nation's busiest airport years ago. And now O'Hare International Airport has slipped from another list — travelers no longer rank it as one of the world's 100 best.

There's a little more good news as well, at least for single people looking for love.

Chicago was named the best city for dating in the U.S. by "The Great Love Debate," a national touring event that unites single men and women in the audience with a panel of relationship experts to discuss dating.

And when it comes to deep-dish pizza, we are way ahead of the game. The smart folks at TripAdvisor listed Chicago as No. 1 on the list of the top 10 U.S. pizza cities.

There really are a lot of areas where Chicago deserves its ranking at the bottom of the barrel. But hockey is one of the few areas where we have consistently risen to the top.

But it takes more than a good sports team to keep people from moving away.

Yeah, but a lot of people are also moving here. Remember, 2015 was the first year in 7 that saw net out-migration from Chicago. Let's see what the next few years look like before we write the obituary.

Also, many people leaving Chicago are heading to warm places in the South and Southwest. This is a mistake, and they may be back, particularly when those places get a few degrees warmer—and so does Chicago.

Student debt and deflation

As someone with both student debt and mortgages, our encroaching deflation (and consistent below-target inflation) frustrates me. Take a look at this special report by Crain's showing how bad the problem of student debt has become in general:

The share of college grads owing at least $30,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars jumped from 6 percent to 30 percent in the eight years ended in 2012, according to the College Board, while the average debt of new graduates in Illinois ballooned 85 percent, to $29,984, over the last decade. Among 46 Illinois schools reporting data to the Princeton Review, 19 say 2014 graduates' debt averaged more than $30,000. Debt for graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was $42,097, topped only by downstate MacMurray College's $50,039. Neither school commented.

A study published in 2014 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, noting that small businesses account for about 60 percent of net jobs and rely primarily on personal debt for startup capital, found "a significant and economically meaningful negative correlation" between growth of student debt and small-business formation.

February's unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds was a seasonally adjusted 5.1 percent, not much higher than the 4.9 percent overall rate and down from 9 percent four years ago. Yet median compensation for 30-year-olds in 2014 has dropped over the last decade to mid-1980s levels, according to the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

So let's review:

  • You need a college degree to meet the minimum qualifications for most jobs.
  • College costs have risen at multiples of inflation for 20 years or more.
  • Students have to borrow more money than ever before to get the college degrees they need to get jobs.
  • The resulting debt service depresses consumer spending, reducing demand for goods and services, and making the jobs even scarcer.
  • Republican Party policies aimed at reducing taxes and government spending, especially in the wake of the 2008 crash, have also suppressed demand for services.
  • Republicans have also simultaneously chipped away at the social safety net built up by bipartisan governments from 1934 to 1976, making repaying debt even harder for people living on the edge.
  • Let's not forget the Republican-drafted, Bush-approved bankruptcy law of 2005 that makes it impossible to get out from under crushing student-loan debt in most circumstances.
  • All of these Republican policies cause—cause—lower inflation verging on deflation, which makes it harder to repay debts. Keep in mind that the biggest beneficiaries of lower inflation are the bankers who contribute disproportionately to Republicans.

As we say in software, the transfer of wealth from young students to old bankers is a feature, not a bug, of Republican economic and tax policies.

You want to know how to keep student debt from destroying the Millennials? Simple. Government stimulus to get us out of the deflation trap, and allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy.

You want to know how to do those things? Simple. Elect Democratic majorities in Federal and state legislatures, and vote for Hillary Clinton on November 6th.

Too many things to read during lunch

A medium-length list this time:

And this brings me to lunch.

One reason people are pissed off

Calculated Risk updates the "scariest jobs chart ever:"

The chart shows each of the post-World War II recessions in terms of job losses from the pre-recession peak. Notice that the 2001 recession line slides right into the 2007 line, as the Republican policies that led to the housing boom and bust tanked the banking sector.

We haven't fully recovered from the 2001 recession, in other words. We've had a generally-down cycle for almost 15 years now. That is why we should not elect a Republican legislature until they figure out how economics works.

Too many craft breweries? Seriously?

Washington Post writer Fritz Hahn is freaking out that the U.S. now has more breweries than ever:

As of Dec. 1, 2015, the Brewers Association had counted 4,144 breweries in the United States, the most ever operating simultaneously in the history of the country. According to historians, the previous high-water mark of 4,131 was set in 1873.

Even when they are given a chance, some small brewers have expressed frustration with the way beer bars order products. Instead of buying three kegs of a new beer and running through them all, as it might have done when local beers were a novelty, a bar tends to buy a keg and, once it’s empty, fill the draft line with a competitor’s product, and then another one, and so on, before rotating back to the first brewery’s beer weeks or months later.

Many in the beer industry pin their hopes for small breweries on localization: the idea that consumers would rather drink beers made down the road than across the country. Lary Hoffman, who co-owns Galaxy Hut in Arlington and Spacebar in Falls Church with his wife, Erica, prefers to stock most of the taps with Virginia breweries, such as Blue Mountain, Champion and Three Notch’d. “You can get any style of beer locally now, and the quality is on par with the best beer in the world, so why not seek out the regional option?” he asks. A handful of national brands, including Bell’s and Avery, show up on the 28 taps at Galaxy Hut and the 24 at Spacebar, but they’re the exception. Customers would be angry “if our draft lineup looked like a Safeway shelf,” Hoffman says.

So, the problem seems to be, too much choice? Yeah, I'm not sure that's something we need to solve. Of course it can be daunting to look at a beer list from a place like Beer Bistro or The Green Lady. That's a problem we want. I lived through the 1980s and early 1990s, when we had maybe four "craft" breweries including Anchor Steam and Sam Adams. I'd rather live today, thank you.

More links

Too many interesting things to read today. I've got some time between work and Bel Canto to get through them:

I have not read Bel Canto, though I understand it's loosely based on an actual historical event. I also haven't ever heard anything from composer Jimmy López before, since it only permiered last month. Friends who work for the Lyric tell me it's pretty good. I'll find out in a few hours.

Two items about academic research

First, from the scientist behind Deeply Trivial, a Times report that giving people money to answer survey questions makes their answers more accurate:

[W]hen you ask people about the economy, the answers are less a statement of objectivity and more like what they’d say if you’d asked which pro football team was the best. That has important implications for democracy. How can people judge whether a party is effective if there is no sense of objective truth? And it could even have implications for the economy itself if, for example, conservative-leaning business executives freeze hiring or investment when the president doesn’t share their politics.

[W]hen money was added to the equation, questions about the economy became less like asking people which football team they thought was best, and more like asking them to place a wager. Even a little bit of cash gets people to think harder about the situation and answer more objectively.

“People are not telling you what they actually believe in ordinary surveys,” [researcher John G. Bullock at the University of Texas at Austin] said. “With a payment, we’re eliciting not necessarily thoughtful responses, but more sincere responses.”

In the same newspaper, Paul Krugman demonstrates that a right-wing trope about academia doesn't mean what they think it means:

Overall, the evidence looks a lot more consistent with a story that has academics rejecting a conservative party that has moved sharply right than it does with a story in which academics have moved left.

Now, you might argue that academics should reflect the political spectrum in the nation — that we need affirmative action for conservative professors, even in science. But do you really want to go there?

No, you really don't.

Road trip, by the numbers

There were some unexpected numbers over the Thanksgiving weekend:

  • Trip down: 562 km, 4 hours 57 minutes; trip back: 561 km, 5 hours 53 minutes. We call that effect "Chicago Sunday-evening traffic."
  • Gasoline price: $2.16/gal for 93 octane (which my car requires)—the lowest price I've paid for gas since buying the car, less than half what I paid last Thanksgiving, and in real terms, the lowest price I've ever paid for gas. (In 1989 I once paid $1.11 per gallon, which is $2.17 adjusted for inflation—but that was regular 87-octane fuel.)
  • Steps, Thursday through Sunday: 19,901, giving me my worst Fitbit week ever. (My daily average is around 12,000.)
  • Rainfall: 62 mm, Friday through Sunday, which explains the step deficit.

I also consumed an unusual quantity of potatoes and turkey.