Wednesday, August 28, 2013

If You Want to be an Undercover Organization...

… don't drive an SUV with "Torchwood" emblazoned on it. This might give people a clue.

(Advice coming a little late, I realize.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cooger and Dark's Wax Museum and Chamber of Horrors

As I wandered through Babbage Square, my eyes were drawn to the hands emerging from the pavement. They turned out to be part of Cooger and Dark's Wax Museum. Naturally, I needed to see what was inside.

Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 001

The museum has exhibits of famous individuals in horror and the occult. Below, H. P. Lovecraft...

Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 002

… and Aleister Crowley...

Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 003

… and the Babbage Cuckoos. Well, doubtless a part of New Babbage history of which I am woefully ignorant.

Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 004

Attached to the wax museum is a Chamber of Horrors. Most of these pictures need no explanation.

Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 005

This lad below, however, bears an uncanny resemblance to the mastermind behind both the wax museum and the chamber of horrors, young Jimmy Branagh.

Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 006
Cooger and Darks Wax Museum 007

Master Jimmy noted that there would be a Grand Re-Opening shortly, with a DJ and dancing for those with a left and a right foot, and a bar for those who have been manufactured with two left (or right) feet.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Applying Economics to Restaurant Costs

In episode 53 of the Unprofessional podcast, Dave Wiskus, Lex Friedman, and John Gruber interrupt an otherwise-entertaining discussion about chain restaurants to display both their liberal biases and faulty reasoning.

They "boycott" (if only one person does it, I'd call it "choose not to eat at") restaurants that have announced cutbacks in employee hours to avoid triggering Obamacare obligations to provide health benefits. They repeat the already-debunked claim that McDonald's could afford to double employee pay by increasing prices by a mere 17%, and they assert without evidence that Papa Johns pizza, to take one example, could easily increase pizza prices enough to pay for employee health benefits because rich guys like Wiskus, Friedman, and Gruber would gladly pay the extra.

Problem one: if Papa John's could raise prices without losing many customers to other pizza places, other fast-food options, or just eating in more often, presumably they'd raise prices already. The essence of profit-maximization is that further increases in price would be unprofitable because the additional profit from the higher revenue from customers who stick with you is outweighed by the lower profit from the loss of revenue from customers who leave. This fundamental fact doesn't magically go away when the scenario includes the opportunity to raise your own costs as well.

Problem two: the assumption that a price increase of "only" 17% (estimated to be more like 25% if done properly) wouldn't result in substantial numbers of people eating elsewhere is a rich person's assumption. A Big Mac meal is listed as $5.69, so a single person would face a price increase of $0.97 (at 17%) to $1.42 (at 25%), while a family of four eating two Big Mac meals and two Happy Meals (4 pieces Chicken McNuggets at $2.99) would pay between $2.95 (at 17%) and $4.34 (at 25%) for that meal. One paper summarizes studies on demand elasticities for a variety of food choices. Estimates for "Food away from home" range from 0.23 to 1.76, with a mean of 0.81. That is, a 10% price increase would lead to an 8% decline in purchases of food away from home. But that's for the industry as a whole. Demand elasticity for an individual restaurant is likely to be substantially higher, well in excess of one, as many other restaurants offer similar choices. Fast-food restaurants, whose demographics likely include far more lower-income customers than higher-end restaurants, are likely to have higher demand elasticity than other choices for dining out.

So feel free to boycott any restaurant you like. Your decision won't change fundamental economic facts.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Review: Doctor Who, "Human Resources, Parts 1 and 2"

The finale of the first season of the Eighth Doctor's adventures with Lucie Miller picks up where "No More Lies" left off: Lucie has been kidnapped by the Headhunter and separated from the Doctor. She finds herself in a new job with Hulbert Logistics in Telford. But something isn't right. Perhaps it's the fact that she can't leave the building, or even that she has no recollection of getting the job and arriving at work. Meanwhile, the Doctor, looking for her, has an encounter with an unfamiliar Time Lord. The TARDIS won't work without Lucie in it; the Time Lord offers to fix the TARDIS if the Doctor returns Lucie, and gives the Doctor a time ring in the interim.

The Doctor arrives at Lucie's "firm" and ends up in a job, whereupon he finds himself giving advice on how to execute a military raid. Later, he poses as a new client for Mr. Hulbert, the head of the firm, which specializes in using war machines to invade planets, using brainwashed humans to run the operations. Lucie is fired from the firm and ejected from the war machine, where she and some former employees find themselves in a fight for survival. Meanwhile, Hulbert invites the Doctor to a reception on his latest planetary conquest, where prospective clients can get testimonials from satisfied former clients. The Doctor discovers some familiar faces...

In Part 2, Lucie discovers a strange object under the floor inside the war machine. The Doctor recognizes it as a quantum crystalizer.They go back to his TARDIS in order to resolve the Doctor's suspicions about the quantum crystalizer. Lucie hears the truth about how the Time Lords manipulated her life.

The story has a number of good lines, often delivered by Lucie.
The Doctor to Lucie: "I'm hoping to annoy someone. You can find out an awful lot by being annoying."
Lucie: I bet it's like riding a bike.
Malcolm: I nearly got hit by a car when I was out and riding my bike.
Lucie: [Gives an exasperated sigh.] Well, I'll bet it's like something else that's easy to pick up again if you haven't done it for a while.
The Doctor: It's a quantum crystalizer.
Lucie: As a rule of thumb, Doctor, if you can't get it in a catalogue, you probably need to explain it to me.
Good stuff. One interesting side note: Andy Wisher (playing Malcolm) is the son of Michael Wisher, Davros in "Genesis of the Daleks" (as well as a number of other Doctor Who characters).

Monday, August 12, 2013

Catching Up

This Journal has been a little quiet of late for the usual variety of reasons, most of which can be summarized as: "Life happens." I submitted a story to the good folks assembling Tales of New Babbage, Vol. 3. At more than 6,000 words, it's the longest thing I've written in years. Let's hope they like it. I've been preparing for a trip at the end of the month, which also means not much will get posted in September, either. I've been wading through this month's reading for the Victorian Fantasy group, William Morris's The Water of the Wondrous Isles, an extremely long fantasy quest/romance, written in the style of much older Arthurian legends, so it's especially tough sledding. Back problems. General lethargy. As I said, life happens.

I've also been catching up on classic Doctor Who stories. Since my last post on the various episodes I had seen, I did a fair amount of infilling from the Fourth Doctor onward. I've now seen all of the Fourth Doctor's episodes with the exception of "Terror of the Zygons," which is currently unavailable on DVD or on iTunes but will be re-issued this fall. I've seen all of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors' stories, and I'm about halfway through the Seventh Doctor's tenure in the TARDIS. (For some reason, the BBC removed "Battlefield" from its catalogue, so I might have to suffer through a horrible-quality bootlegged version on YouTube.) Some good, some bad, and some ugly stories in the mix. I wasn't sold on Peter Davison's Doctor initially, but he grew on me. His Doctor exudes a quiet confidence whatever the situation, and Davison's acting elevates the story above the sometimes weak writing. I was a little afraid to get into the Colin Baker era after all the negative things I'd heard about his portrayal of the Doctor and the terrible episodes of the time, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying Baker's gruff, blustery take on the character. Yes, the costume was horrible to behold, the writers never let Peri's character develop, and some of the stories were, indeed, embarrassingly bad. (I'm looking at you, "Mark of the Rani," "The Twin Dilemma," and Peri's swan song, "Mindwarp.") But Baker was solid in the role, some of the stories were reasonable, and even the much-maligned "Trial of a Time Lord" business in Season 23 wasn't too terrible, though I could have done without the "trial" and stuck with traditional stories, and the resolution of Peri's story - married off to a barbarian warlord - was nauseating. The Sylvester McCoy era doesn't start on a promising note, with the terrible "Time and the Rani," followed by the girl gangs of "Paradise Towers" - lots of good stuff in there, but it looked cheesy - and the kitsch of "Delta and the Bannermen" (the soundtrack to that story, with its awful 1980s music constantly intruding, as though the DVD had suddenly switched to "BJ and the Bear," was the worst part), but McCoy is a terrific Doctor and the stories get much better.

I'll eventually fill in some of the stories I haven't yet seen from the earlier years - "Inferno" and "The Daemons" come to mind from the Pertwee era, and I'm sure there are others - but I'm pretty happy having almost 22 seasons of travels in time and space rattling around in my brain.

Then there's the decade-plus of audio adventures...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Visit to Calas Galadhon

I saw in Miss Inara Pey's aetheric journal that the region of Calas Galadhon would be closing temporarily at the end of July. When it reopens, the thirteen-sim region will likely shrink. Having walked its tranquil paths before, I paid one more visit to the area before the closure.

The first three pictures below are from the Calas Galdhon sim itself:
Calas Galadhon 7 28 13 001

Calas Galadhon 7 28 13 002

Calas Galadhon 7 28 13 003

The next three pictures are from the Dimrill Dale sim, adjacent to Calas Galadhon. The church interior, directly below, might be the nicest such interior I've encountered.

Dimrill Dale 7 28 13 001

Dimrill Dale 7 28 13 002

Dimrill Dale 7 28 13 003

I look forward to seeing what the sim owners have in store when it reopens.