July 21st, 2005

Media

Bruce Schneier on the news

One of the things I routinely tell people is that if it's in the news, don't worry about it. By definition, "news" means that it hardly ever happens. If a risk is in the news, then it's probably not worth worrying about. When something is no longer reported -- automobile deaths, domestic violence -- when it's so common that it's not news, then you should start worrying.
Stolen from Schneier's blog. For those who aren't geeks, he's a cybersecurity type of person, though he often comments on other types of security as well.
Editorial

Community service day

I refused to sign up for community service day at my employer last year because of the lack of options to help out the poor. Here's a list of this year's options:
  • ACT Theatre www.acttheatre.org See the theatre from the other side of the stage and help clean out the theatrical storage areas.
  • Boys & Girls Club of Kirkland http://www.onepositiveplace.org/kirkland.html The teen center is in dire need of building and repair and you're just the folks to do it.
  • Northwest Harvest www.northwestharvest.org The cool choice: help package and sort food for Puget Sound’s food banks.
  • Pasado’s Safe Haven www.pasadosafehaven.org Come set up the huge garage sale in an 86,000 s.f. plane hanger at Sandpoint Naval Station. Proceeds will benefit abused and neglected animals.
  • Washington Trails Association www.wta.org A perennial Expedia favorite: get dirty digging and scraping hiking trails on Grand Ridge Trail.

Not much change for this year. One out of five options actually helps the poor and truly downtrodden. Frankly, it irritates me that a yuppie company gears most of it's community relations stuff (not just this, ther things as well) toward things that benefit, well, themselves.

These charities are worthy causes. They do good things. But between helping out ACT Theatre and manning soup kitchen line or tutoring kids from the central district, I wouldn't pick the first option if I had to pick between them. And I strongly suspect that few of my fellow employees help out on the latter types of things. Including myself lately.

Rodent with Antlers

Car security

Consider two different security systems for your car. Both cost about the same.

One (LoJack, for instance) silently sets off an alarm for the police to come chase down the car thief. In the former, the thief doesn't know he's being tracked, but it may take some time for the police to find and catch him. Meanwhile, the thief could do some serious damage to the car as well as hand off any valuables therein before the police arrive. Most likely the thief will be caught, but possibly only after causing damage.

The other has a conspicuous decal stating that the car is protected, and will set off a very loud alarm in addition to notifying the police. Also assume that people don't ignore car alarms like they do in reality and will call the police. In the second case, knowing that the police will arrive shortly because of the alarm, the thief is mostly likely to move on to another car.

So which system do you buy?

Poll #537063 LoJack

Would you choose a visible security system or an invisible one?

Invisible
4(19.0%)
Visible
17(81.0%)
Rodent with Antlers

Social benefits

So my poll on car security was inspired by this entry on Bruce Schneier's blog. I read the Kristof Op-Ed and thought it was pretty cool, then later saw Schneier's entry. The point is that in many cases people will pick something that is best for them, but not look at the social benefits of other options. It's a flaw in pure unregulated markets. Overall, everyone would be better off with fewer car thieves, and thus less need for car security. But given the choice, most people will opt for maximizing their personal gain.

As the Kristof Op-Ed noted, when LoJack became prevalent in Boston, car theft dropped big time. Cause thieves wouldn't be sure if a car had LoJack or not. Whereas with the Club, car thefts just shifted to those who didn't have them.

The moral is that giving economic incentives to people to nudge them to pick stuff like LoJack over the Club might be a cost effective way to reduce one type of crime.