I teach political economy and statistics at a large public university in the US. You can find my academic website here.

The Waste Book very occasionally collects my passing thoughts on politics, economics, statistics, data visualization, life, culture, and everything.

We aim for funny, will settle for intriguing, and, the times and the Internet being what they are, resign ourselves to a certain amount of bemoaning.



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literature · November 13, 2012 · comments

Book recommendations: Recent finds, 2012 edition

by Chris Adolph


Ride a Cockhorse by Raymond Kennedy (1991; New York eview Books, 2012) · Satire · The other side of the coin to John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. That book introduced the slovenly, lazy manchild Ignatius eilly, paragon of the isolated faux-intellectual blowhard and precursor of poisonous uneducated know-it-alls like Bill O’eilly and ush Limbaugh. Now comes aymond Kennedy to present Frances Fitzgibbons, ordinary loan officer mysteriously transmogrified into scheming megalomaniac – an ’80s Sarah Palin, winking, backstabbing, and bullshitting her way to power. Like the half-term governor, hilarious and a little scary.

The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlín R. Kiernan. (Roc, 2012) · Horror · “There’s always a siren, singing you to shipwreck.” A prolific writer with a background in biology, Kiernan is at her best with first person horror. Superficially meandering, this memoir of a mentally ill woman is meticulously structured and skinned over with Kiernan’s killer style. The middle pages – an extended metaphor connecting madness and temptation – are a thing of beauty, worth the cover price by itself. Full of deceptively casual allusion, The Drowning Girl is a work of literature with the compulsive readability of a thriller. Also consider The Red Tree (the best haunted house story I’ve ever read) and frankly anything else by Kiernan, our Lovecraft for the age of uncertainty, ambiguity, and loss.

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946; Vintage, 2007) · Mystery · A dashing, intricate, old-school mystery caper with flashes of Wodehousian wit. Although lacking any SF elements, this novel is accurately described as “more Doctor Who than Doctor Who.”

Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber and Faber, 2012) · Farce · In this parody of the world of TED talks and Davos, a dull middle-aged academic in a dreary social science field prepares to keynote at a rich donors’ schmooze-fest on an Aegean island. Acting on a whim, a likable young scoundrel takes his place. The satire of superficial conferences and scholarly sell-outs is razor-sharp, and the coils of farce layer satisfyingly until it seems only P.G. Wodehouse could devise a satisfactory resolution. It will help to accept – as the author clearly does – that no mortal can recreate The Code of the Woosters. We get two endings, but neither feels quite right.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Pyr, 2007) · Fantasy · The Fellowship of the ing co-authored by George .. Martin and Joss Whedon’s bitter twin, this is the start of a trilogy that just gets better chapter by chapter, book by book. Abercrombie’s addictive prose blends cynicism, sympathy, and action; the characters face impossible dilemmas like real human beings; and the concluding volume is the most effective gut punch in the fantasy genre.

Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon (1973; Centipede Press, 2012) · Horror · In the early ’70s, an artistic couple from NYC and their teenage daughter move to an isolated New England farming community that has resisted modern agricultural technology and clung to centuries-old Cornish traditions. A finely written literary work narrated by a flawed protagonist, centered on a community of fully realized characters, and overshadowed by exquisitely timed dread. It is the best horror novel of its kind.

Jack Glass by Adam oberts (Gollancz, 2012) · SF · Three connected mystery novellas set in a mostly believable and wholly original dystopia. Strong yet whimsical on science and tautly written, with competent, complex characters who walk a tightrope between the reader’s sympathy and disgust. Not for the squeamish.

tags: books

computing · March 20, 2012 · comments

Social Science Computing for the Mac in 15 Steps and $29

by Chris Adolph

as a uantitative social scientist, I use software every day that many people have never even heard of. At the same time, I don’t even have a copy of Microsoft Word or PowerPoint on my laptop. As you might imagine, just finding, installing, and configuring scientific software can be quite a distracting quest. Students embarking on quantitative social science careers may be interested in how my own computing environment is set up, so they can get on with the business of using these tools instead of searching for them.

I’ll assume you’re a Ph.D. student in political science, sociology, economics, statistics, or a cognate discipline, and that you want to develop solutions for at least a few of the following tasks: modern statistical computing, editing code, typesetting scientific papers, making lecture slides, producing publication quality scientific graphics, and developing websites. I will also assume that you use a Mac. Most of the applications below exist for Windows in some form, and many exist for Linux/Unix, but I will leave advice for finding these resources to another day and to commenters.

Where do you get started? I’ll begin with step-by-step recommendations for essentials, and then follow with some optional extras.  read on

tags: technical

stories · February 4, 2012 · comments

Doctor Margrave’s Ruby

by Chris Adolph

when I started college at ice University in 1994, I needed to find a job on campus. My dad generously paid my tuition and room and board, but left other expenses in my hands. I was in a rather odd category economically: well-off enough to be assured that no economic event would interrupt my studies, but cash-poor enough to need to work if I wanted to eat something other than ramen on weekends. And in Houston, Texas, life has no meaning if you can’t go out for Mexican food or the occasional off-campus Thai lunch.

As long as I could pay the phone and creamy jalapeño bills, I wanted as few hours of work as I could find. I wasn’t eligible for work-study, and the pickings for 10-hours or less a week non-work-study jobs were slim. Indeed, the first week of school, there were just two such jobs: an off-campus job at the Texas Medical Center maintaining a rabbit lab, and an on-campus job doing menial tasks for a chemistry professor.

I interviewed for the rabbit job first. I didn’t own a car – an unthinkable oversight in Houston – but I agreed to a no-notice interview. Striding out into my hall, I spotted an unknown floormate, introduced myself, and asked for a ride (there was little chance he’d turn me down; ice is like that). As I explained my urgent need for a lift, it occurred to me that my new best friend looked familiar. I was sure I’d seen that face hundreds of times, only his was browner, younger…  read on

tags: life, universe, everything

politics · January 19, 2012 · comments

The Rime of the Texas Candidate

by Chris Adolph

So the idea is that on one of his hunting trips, Rick Perry shot an albatross?


um, hoover Institution? It looks like one of your fellows missed both 5th grade history on the presidents and 5th grade math on percentages:

Bill Whalen, fellow at the Hoover Institution, says today’s end to the Rick Perry presidential campaign dramatizes what can now officially be called “the 16-year curse of Texas politics” for presidential runs… Whalen’s take: when it comes to presidential politics, “Texas is boom and bust. You’re either Bush, father and son, and you go all the way.” Or “you’re the rest – and you can’t get out of the first round.”

Source: Carla Marinucci, “Perry latest victim of ‘16-year curse of Texas politics’ – either you’re Bush or you’re screwed“ Houston Chronicle, 1/19/2012.

So let’s look at the presidential campaigns of the last 16 years – that’s Whalen’s interval, and if anything, it’s stacked in favor of his argument, as he just manages to exclude the second-to-last Texas president from consideration.  read on

tags: bemoaning

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