Archive for April, 2013

Sigur Ros at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

April 19, 2013

Yesterday, I finally got to see Sigur Ros live. I have been listening quite carefully to them for years, but have never found the occation to see them live before. They played the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco. The Bill Graham is a pretty large venue with room for 7000 souls. It was sold out.

While it hurts a little to say it, the gig was somewhat underwhelming. First of all, they started by playing the first two-three songs behind a curtain. The curtain was used for projections, with the band barely visible. Now, the music is what matters of course, but part of the live experience is the personal feel. The curtain did not feel very personal. And while I’m sure the projections were great, I have long since disliked the excessive use of projections and video art on live music concerts. In my view, it distracts from the music most of the time. Nuvel. Another thing is that they could perfectly well have used a more transparent curtain. Projections would have worked just as fine; perhaps not the part where the lead singer (Jonsi) stood infront of a spotlight playing his guitar with a bow, I would not mind.

Things got more interesting once the curtain dropped. It turned out they were a bunch of people on stage. Four main members and perhaps six more on various horns and strings. The benefit of such a large ensemble is that one has much more depth and, in the case of Sigur Ros, it could be essential to pull off certain parts of their music that sometimes have many, many layers. (Their live album Inni demonstrates, however, that they work very well without orchestral backup.) The drawback is that the more people are involved, more stuff can go wrong. Wrong is perhaps strong (although they did mess up a couple of times; whether they were genuine fuckups or a technical errors, I do not know), but they were never really tight. They never nailed it. In periods, if felt like they did not even try. The beat on Popplagid was everywhere. Much of the music Sigur Ros make is pure magic, but their live performance last night was never really magic. Jonsi demonstrated a magic voice, but that was it. The crescendos was not as intense and sound-drenched as they should have been. The strings were too low. The guitar-bow thing was too low. Perhaps they had their heads elsewhere (Perhaps I had?) Perhaps they were exhausted after a long tour.

After all my whining, I should say I did enjoyt the concert. Sigur Ros makes really great music, and a slightly uninspired and cluttered performance cannot take the greatness away. Just too bad it did not really work out, because I think it could have been a blast if everything clicked and they’d just let go.

Sigur Ros in San Francisco, 2013

UPDATE: Walked by a homeless singing on the street the other day. Realized there is always some magic present when someone sings their heart out. Sigur Ros really did that, sing their heart out and created magic, I just missed it.


Some Observations From the Berkeley Bioeconomy Conference

April 13, 2013

I attended the Berkeley Bioeconomy Conference some time ago, and would like to relay some notes and observations. It was interesting, as I am not a regular of the bioeconomy research community. First of all, the term bioeconomy (seldom or never bioeconomics, notably) seems to mean the economics of biofuel. A couple of highlights:

  • A carbon tax in the US has become slightly less unlikely because of the huge budget deficit. A tax on carbon would generate a lot of revenue. So, the financial crisis still has positive effects on the climate. First, it slowed down economic growth. Now it can lead to a carbon tax in the US. Well, a carbon tax is at least not as unlikely as before, but still unlikely. A couple of further moments are that the budget deficit did not origin within the financial crisis, but the situation did become worse after the crisis hit. And, the crisis has probably had a number of negative effects on the climate as well, like switching to dirtier fuels and perhaps less public and private money for research.
  • If production of crops for biofuel  has adverse effects on food production and prices, it is difficult to pin down empirically (at least in one study from Brazil).
  • When one delves into sustainability, it could unleash an array of potential issues to worry about, of conceptual, theoretical, philosophical, and regulatory nature. One second thought, any issue one could delve into could unleash any number of issues of different natures, a part of the art of getting anything done in research is not to engage all at the same time perhaps.
  • Few places are as ideal as Brazil for biofuel production. If it does not work there, it will likely not work anywhere.
  • Is a non-parametric estimate the same as a spline?
  • Electricity generated from shale gas is cheaper than hydropower(?!), and it is better to use natural gas to make electricity than to run cars (electric cars have great milage).
  • Voting is not necessarily an efficient tool to decide upon labeling of genetically modified food; willingness to pay could be higher in the minority. How the issue is framed is also of importance (a lesson from Kahneman there).
  • Price volatility of fussil fuel correlates with the business cycle (it is demand driven). Volitility in biofuel does not correlate with the business cycle and hence a bad agricultural year (bad weather) could deepen a recession.
  • Tinbergen, apparently (revealing some holes in my background here), told us that one should have one policy instrument for each policy target. Is that really true? It is at least easy to imagine a policy instrument active (in lack of a better word) in several dimensions.

Quote of the Day (and some more)

April 9, 2013

I somewhat arbitrarily picked up Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers by Jacques Barzun in a used book store. At the beginning of the book, there are some great quotes. The best one is perhaps the following from C.S. Lewis:

I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate to the left or right, the reader will most certainly go into it.

Requires the slightest idea about regular behavior of sheep, but does not have that? Barzun also offers a definition of the perhaps elusive term rhetoric (as many words, it holds so much [to me] that a definition is difficult to put down precisely):

Rhetoric is the craft of setting down words and marks right; or again: Rhetoric shows you how to put words together so that the reader not simply may but must grasp your meaning (p. 2, revised edition; his italics).

Simple and direct, I presume, but Barzun still needed two tries. I think I prefer the latter. Barzun writes sensibly about writing (read well, for example, perhaps the best advice), but feels somewhat outdated in places. For example, he makes a good case for the senselessness of workaholic (derived from alcoholic that comes from al-cohol, worka-holic does thus not work because -holic has no meaning), but I perceive workaholic as established. It is, for example, listed on my dear (Simple & Direct was published in 1975; the revised edition is from 1985, and some 30-40 years should not matter for a book on rhetoric; Strunk’s Elements of Style, more than 100 years since the first edition, I think, is for example still highly regarded.)  Nevertheless, I find Simple & Direct useful and interesting and hope to post more from and on it when time permits (progress is slow, as always).

Fisheries Management Under Irreversible Investment: Does Stochasticity Matter?

April 7, 2013

In the latest issue of Marine Resource Economics (vol. 28, no. 1) I co-author an article together with colleagues at the Norwegian School of Economics. We explore what optimal management looks like when capital has to be managed as well as the fish stock. In fisheries, fleet investments are to some degree irreversible; fishing boats has little alternative use. While little has been written on the multidimensional decision problem of how large a fleet to own (the capital decision) and how much of it to use (the fishing decision), we also look at the effect of stochasticity. Things quickly become messy in these models as the number of potential scenarios is large. While it is manageable in our present case, I do not look forward to seeing further extensions. Or rather, I would love to see creative takes on analysis and presentations of high dimensional problems.

MREOur abstract:

We present a continuous, nonlinear, stochastic, and dynamic model for capital investment in the exploitation of a renewable resource. Both the resource stock and capital are treated as state variables. The resource owner controls fishing effort and the investment rate in an optimal way. Biological stock growth and the capital depreciation rate are stochastic in the model. We find that the stochastic resource should be managed conservatively. The capital utilization rate is found to be a nonincreasing function of stochasticity. Investment could be either higher or lower depending on the interaction between capital and the resource stock. In general, a stochastic capital depreciation rate has no strong influence on optimal management. In the long run, the optimal harvest for a stochastic resource becomes lower than the deterministic level.