17 January 2005

Only two more economics lessons to finish up.

I'm working up to greater distances in the pool these days, and got up to 2100 yards today. Economics was on my mind as I was swimming.

The pool was crowded because the little pool was closed. More than three people in a lane is annoying, especially if everyone is swimming different speeds and the slow people don't have good pool etiquette (stop at the wall to let faster swimmers pass; don't push off the wall immediately in front of someone who is faster than you, etc.)

Profit opportunities in the pool are eliminated even more quickly than they are in a perfectly competitive market. The lanes with the fewest people immediately fill up. If there are five people in every lane, and one lane suddenly drops down to two people, new swimmers or swimmers from adjacent lanes will fill in to take advantage of the extra space.

Is this the most efficient pool-filling strategy? No. The pool ends up having slow swimmers in fast lanes and fast swimmers in slow lanes, and everyone ends up annoyed at everyone else in their lane and leaves with a less than maximally satisfying workout.

What if we followed a strategy where everyone got into lanes based on swimmer ability (another pool etiquette rule rarely followed.) Certain lanes could fill with three or four people while other lanes are left open. Eventually the pool fills and everyone is in a lane with swimmers of similar ability. Everyone benefits, even though some people give up the profit opportunity of having a lane to themselves for a few minutes.

What sort of market structure would be analagous to this type pool behavior? A more efficient and equitable one to be sure. One where courtesy and sharing were valued over "first come first serve" mentality. Are such things hopelessly lost in free market?

Sometimes that damn hand needs to be a little less invisible.

11 January 2005

Our backyard has an array of animals these days. Eastern gray squirrels, chipmunks, and cottontails. Northern cardinals, House wrens, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, American goldfinches, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, white-breasted nuthatches, and an occasional cedar waxwing.

I took a field biology class last fall that has me very interested in birds at the moment. Partly because now I can actually identify the birds that I see. My father is an avid birder and growing up I would wake up mornings to see Dad standing in front of the kitchen window with his binoculars trained on the bird feeders. Twice a year Dad would wake me up before dawn and we'd go into the park to do the annual Breeding Bird Survey in the summer and the annual Christmas Bird Count on winter solstice. I grew disinterested because I never learned to tell a wren from a warbler.

Now that I have burned into my memory the male and female feather patterns of 70+ bird species, I've been spending a lot of time watching birds. Our neighbors have a serious number of bird feeders that I can see from the living room window. In addition the tenants before us left a tube-style feeder in one of the trees in our yard. I bought some birdseed for it and couldn't resist buying a suet feeder to attract other winter birds like woodpeckers that don't come to feeders.

Little did I know that my innocent interest in watching birds would turn into a full on battle with the squirrels. First the feeder was in a tree in our yard. Once the squirrels found the feeder they devoured the entire tube of seed in two days and broke the branch the feeder was hanging from.

Next I moved the feeder to a place above our porch that the birds could get to but the squirrels couldn't. The squirrels were foiled, but so was I, since I couldn't see the birds from any of the windows. Over break I accidentally left a 20 pound bag of seed on the porch and when I came home it had been raided and scattered all over the porch.

Next try was to hang the feeders on the close line, high enough off the ground so they couldn't jump up to the feeder from the ground and far enough away from each tree to keep them from jumping out the feeder from the trunk.

This lasted less than a day before we learned that squirrels are accomplished tightrope walkers. Next we went to clear picture hanging wire, thinking that surely this would be too fine for the squirrels to walk across.

It was two days before the squirrels figured this one out. They jump out to midway on the line, then hang upside down and crawl paw over paw to the feeder, mission impossible style.

Fishing line is our next idea, though I'm not sure even this will be enough. Maybe spinning circular disks attached on either side of the line will stop them? I'll keep you updated.

07 January 2005

Back in Ithaca for over a week now. Mac and I had a wonderful prairie Christmas with my family, tumbleweed tree and all. Now back to root processing in the lab and two correspondance classes in microeconomics and accounting to finish up before my last semester of school starts.

While economics may not always be the most applied subject, it's practical wisdom glimmers through now and again. Yesterday I learned that minimizing costs isn't the best way to maximize profits.

Something to refect on in the pool during 1500 yards of a New Year's resolution.