Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 21st, 2008

Another thought on Benford’s Law

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Obviously, the distribution of the leading digits depends on the base in which numerals are written. The law as written works for numerals written in base 10. If you wrote the same numerals (e.g., the areas of the lakes of the world) in base 2, 100% of the numerals would start with “1”.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life

Hey! I was mentioned in a James Fallows post!

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 9:56 am

Posted in Daily life

More lies from the Right

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Set straight by Jonathan Cohn:

If you’ve been following the auto industry’s crisis, then you’ve probably read or heard a lot about overpaid American autoworkers—in particular, the fact that the average hourly employee of the Big Three makes $70 per hour.

That’s an awful lot of money. Seventy dollars an hour in wages works out to almost $150,000 a year in gross income, if you assume a forty-hour work week. Is it any wonder the Big Three are in trouble? And with auto workers making so much, why should taxpayers—many of whom make far less—finance a plan to bail them out?

Well, here’s one reason: The figure is wildly misleading.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s not $70 per hour in wages. According to Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automative Research—who was my primary source for the figures you are about to read—average wages for workers at Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors were just $28 per hour as of 2007. That works out to a little less than $60,000 a year in gross income—hardly outrageous, particularly when you consider the physical demands of automobile assembly work and the skills most workers must acquire over the course of their careers.

More important, and contrary to what you may have heard, the wages aren’t that much bigger than what Honda, Toyota, and other foreign manufacturers pay employees in their U.S. factories. While we can’t be sure precisely how much those workers make, because the companies don’t make the information public, the best estimates suggests the corresponding 2007 figure for these “transplants”—as the foreign-owned factories are known—was somewhere between $20 and $26 per hour, and most likely around $24 or $25. That would put average worker’s annual salary at $52,000 a year.

So the “wage gap,” per se, has been a lot smaller than you’ve heard. And this is no accident. If the transplants paid their employees far less than what the Big Three pay their unionized workers, the United Auto Workers would have a much better shot of organizing the transplants’ factories. Those factories remain non-unionized and management very much wants to keep it that way.

But then what’s the source of that $70 hourly figure? It didn’t come out of thin air. Analysts came up with it by including the cost of all employer-provided benefits—namely, health insurance and pensions—and then dividing by the number of workers. The result, they found, was that benefits for Big Three cost about $42 per hour, per employee. Add that to the wages—again, $24 per hour—and you get the $70 figure. Voila.

Except … notice something weird about this calculation? It’s not as if each active worker is getting health benefits and pensions worth $42 per hour. That would come to nearly twice his or her wages. (Talk about gold-plated coverage!) Instead, each active worker is getting benefits equal only to a fraction of that—probably around $10 per hour, according to estimates from the International Motor Vehicle Program. The number only gets to $70 an hour if you include the cost of benefits for retirees—in other words, the cost of benefits for other people. One of the few people to grasp this was Portfolio.com’s Felix Salmon. As he noted yesterday, the claim that workers are getting $70 an hour in compensation is just “not true.”

Of course, the cost of benefits for those retirees—you may have heard people refer to them as “legacy costs”—do represent an extra cost burden that only the Big Three shoulder. And, yes, it makes it difficult for the Big Three to compete with foreign-owned automakers that don’t have to pay the same costs. But don’t forget why those costs are so high. While the transplants don’t offer the same kind of benefits that the Big Three do, the main reason for their present cost advantage is that they just don’t have many retirees.

The first foreign-owned plants didn’t start up here until the 1980s; many of the existing once came well after that. As of a year ago, Toyota’s entire U.S. operation had less than 1,000 retirees. Compare that to a company like General Motors, which has been around for more than a century and which supports literally hundreds of thousands of former workers and spouses. As you might expect, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 9:32 am

Free one-year subscription to PC Magazine

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Only it’s not hard-copy: PC Magazine is discontinuing its print edition and will now publish only electronically. You can get a one-year free subscription to the electronic edition.

Apparently several magazines are moving in this direction. The Wife will be interested to know that single copies of Elle are available (in electronic format) for $0.99 each.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 9:18 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Buttermilk biscuits

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These sound both tasty and easy:

Buttermilk biscuits

Prep: 20 min., Chill: 10 min., Bake: 15 min.

Makes 2 dozen

  • 1/2  cup  cold butter
  • 2 1/4  cups  self-rising soft-wheat flour
  • 1 1/4  cups  buttermilk
  • Self-rising soft-wheat flour
  • 2  tablespoons  melted butter

1. Cut butter with a sharp knife or pastry blender into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle butter slices over flour in a large bowl. Toss butter with flour. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas. Cover and chill 10 minutes. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 3 or 4 times, gradually adding additional flour as needed. With floured hands, press or pat dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour. Fold dough over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with 1 short end. (Fold dough rectangle as if folding a letter-size piece of paper.) Repeat entire process 2 more times, beginning with pressing into a 3/4-inch-thick dough rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches).

3. Press or pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, and place, side by side, on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased jelly-roll pan. (Dough rounds should touch.)

4. Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; brush with 2 Tbsp. melted butter.

Note: For testing purposes only, we used White Lily Self-Rising Soft Wheat Flour.

Cinnamon-Raisin Biscuits: Omit 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Combine 1/2 cup golden raisins, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1/3 cup chopped pecans with flour in a large bowl. Proceed with recipe as directed. Stir together 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 2 Tbsp. buttermilk until smooth. Drizzle over warm biscuits. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Black Pepper-Bacon Biscuits: Combine 1/3 cup cooked and crumbled bacon slices (about 5 slices) and 1 tsp. black pepper with flour in a large bowl. Proceed with recipe as directed. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Feta-Oregano Biscuits: Combine 1 (4-oz.) package crumbled feta cheese and 1/2 tsp. dried oregano with flour in a large bowl. Proceed with recipe as directed. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Pimiento Cheese Biscuits: Combine 1 cup (4 oz.) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese with flour in a large bowl. Reduce buttermilk to 1 cup. Stir together buttermilk and 1 (4-oz.) jar diced pimiento, undrained. Proceed with recipe as directed. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Little guy escapes from orca

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Thanks, Liz.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 8:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Roast chicken with lemons

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A friend mailed me this recipe (from the Nov-Dec issue of AARP), and I made it last night. I have to say that it was the tenderest and juiciest roast chicken I’ve had for a long time.

Roast Chicken with Lemons
Serves 4

3- to 4-pound chicken
salt [I highly recommend kosher salt for this recipe – LG]
freshly ground black pepper
2 small lemons

1. Preheat oven to 350º F.

2. Wash the chicken in cold water, inside and out. Remove any fat hanging loose. Let the water drain out and pat the bird dry with a towel.

3. Rub a generous amount of salt and pepper on the chicken, inside and out.

4. Wash and dry the lemons. Soften each by rolling back and forth on a counter while pressing on it with the palm of your hand. Puncture each lemon in at least 20 places, using a round toothpick, a trussing needle, or a fork. [I used a fork. It’s also good to heat the lemon slightly: 10 seconds in the microwave, for example. – LG]

5. Place both lemons in the chicken’s cavity. Close the opening with toothpicks or a trussing needle and string. Don’t make it absolutely air-tight—the bird may burst. Tie the legs in the natural position with string. [I made it as tight as possible and it still didn’t burst. – LG]

6. Put the chicken in a roasting pan, breast side down. Place it in the upper third of the oven. After 30 minutes, turn the breast side up. [I have settled on 45 minutes. The back needs just a little more cooking. – LG] Try not to puncture the skin, but don’t worry if you do. The chicken will be just as good.

7. Cook for another 30-35 minutes, the increase the heat to 400º F, cook for 20 minutes more. Plan on 20 to 25 minutes of total cooking time per pound. There is no need to turn the chicken again.

8. Bring the bird to the table whole. Leave the lemons in it until the chicken is carved and opened. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious. [I let the chicken sit out of the oven on the carving plate for 15 minutes before I started carving. That probably contributed to the juiciness of the meat. – LG]

Excellent chicken.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 7:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

English Lavender

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Tryphon (Razor and Brush) is not only the Ace of Blades (as Steve wrote on Kafeneio) but also makes some excellent shaving creams and soaps. This morning I chose the English Lavender shaving cream, which I like a lot, and the Simpsons Emperor 1 Super. Though the Emperor 1 is a small brush, it holds plenty of lather for 3 passes and even 4—and it has that terrific Emperor handle. The Merkur Vision 2000 with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade provided an extremely smooth shave, free of nicks or irritation. Musgo Real aftershave was the final touch.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2008 at 7:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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