Category Archives: Housekeeping

Download the Blog – New and Improved!

By James Kwak

I finally came up with a better way to create a downloadable blog archive (always available via the “Download the Blog in PDF” link under Navigation in the right-hand sidebar). Now the archive is up to date (through April 2010) and you can download it in PDF, Kindle, or EPUB format. And it has clickable bookmarks for each individual post.

Thanks go to Joss Winn, Martin Hawksey, Feedbooks, and Yahoo! Pipes. See the archive page itself for a technical description.

Away Message

By James Kwak

I’ll be traveling and probably not blogging (hopefully not using a computer at all) until next weekend (March 27 or 28). Simon will be around, though. Bye.

13 Bankers

The day that President Obama came out in favor of size and scope limits for banks seems like a good day to tell you about our new book, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown–in which we argue for hard size limits on banks, among other things. While we end up talking about the financial crisis, the way the government responded to it, and the too big to fail issue, it’s really a book about power–the economic and political power of the banking industry both recently and throughout American history, the problems it creates, and what we can do about it.

The book will be out on April 6 (or maybe a week earlier), but you can already pre-order it wherever books are pre-ordered. In the meantime, to learn more, we have a new book web site with its own blog (for book-related news and thoughts).

Now, back to proof-reading . . .

By James Kwak

Baseline Scenario Catches Up to Last Year’s Technology

I finally bothered to figure out how to push new posts (well, links to new posts) into the status messages of our Facebook page. This means that if you are or become a fan of that page, links to new posts will magically appear on your Facebook home page (which they keep redesigning–does anyone besides me find it annoying when Web 2.0 companies keep changing their user interfaces around and forcing you to figure out how they work every couple months?).

I’m doing it this way: Blog -> RSS -> Twitterfeed -> Twitter -> Selective Tweets Facebook application -> Facebook page. So if you follow the Twitter feed you won’t miss anything that’s on Facebook.

Alternatively, if you use Facebook and want to stay within Facebook, you can go to our Facebook page and click on the RSS/Blog tab to read full posts.

As for me, I stopped using Facebook many months ago.

By James Kwak

Feed Problems?

I’ve gotten a few messages that our feed is not working properly. And, it occurs to me that I haven’t been getting email updates for the past couple of days.

The default feed produced by WordPress (http://baselinescenario.com/feed/) is working fine, and I can read the blog fine in Google Reader. But the Feedburner version (http://feeds.feedburner.com/BaselineScenario), which generates the emails, is stuck at January 8. I’ll look into it, but if you have any diagnostic details or suggestions let me know below.

(I suspect it is related to my having changed the number of items that go into the feed from 15 to 200; I was trying to figure out a better way to convert the blog to PDF, and that was one of the steps. I reset it this morning, so that may fix it.)

Update: Forcing Feedburner to ping the default feed worked; the Feedburner feed is up to date now. I’ll watch it to see if it picks up the next post or not.

Update 2: It did. I’m guessing that email subscribers will get an email tonight. (Of course, most of you aren’t here to read this.)

By James Kwak

Kindle Comments?

As a few of you have figured out, you can read our blog on the Kindle. I know a few of you know this because I have received a very small amount of money from Amazon – a good deal less than the annual expenses of maintaining this blog, and those expenses are probably only in two figures anyway.

Simon pointed out that not being able to read comments on the Kindle is a problem. The reason for this is that WordPress.com separates posts and comments into two separate feeds. So I was just over at the Kindle Publishing site, about to publish the comments feed as a separate Kindle blog, when I realized I had no idea what the copyright status of comments is. In particular, if I do publish the comments feed on Kindle, I will make (a paltry amount of) money from other people’s work.

Now, I am guessing I am probably on firm legal ground doing that, since there are lots of blogs that make money (though few that make a lot of money), and they are all to some degree making money off of their comments. I think I’m on firm ethical ground as well, since the amount of money is so small that there is just no way to distribute it to the commenters that would not cost more to implement than the revenue I would receive. But I wanted to know: (a) if anyone knows of a good discussion of this topic (I can’t be the first person to think of it) and (b) if any of our regular commenters cares one way or the other.

Thanks.

By James Kwak

At the Beach

I will be at the beach with my family for a week. I’m not certain about this, but there is a strong possibility that I will not be using a computer, let alone checking email or blogging. (Computers are useful when traveling, especially since I don’t have an iPhone or a Blackberry, but if you have one then there is the temptation to check your email, and then you are on a slippery slope to hell.)

Luckily for you, Mike Konczal, aka Mike Rorty, of Rortybomb and The Atlantic, has agreed to be my stand-in for the week and will be guest-blogging here. Mike is a bona fide financial engineer with the good sense to live in the San Francisco area, and is a natural with economics, finance, public policy, and the English language.

Enjoy.

(Simon will probably still be blogging, although he will also be on vacation; in fact, he has been on vacation for the past week.)

By James Kwak

The Spam Filter

The spam filter seems to be catching a few more legitimate comments than usual recently. I just rescued about nine comments (out of over one hundred messages flagged as spam) from the last several days. Some of those comments were from some of our most regular commenters. I know that if you put in a lot of links your comment is more likely to be flagged. Besides that I don’t really know what it is looking for.

If your comment does not appear, feel free to email me to look into it. I do get a lot of email, but if you are a regular commenter I will try to look into it as soon as I can.

By James Kwak

The Economics of RSS

I rarely write about blogging itself – I take it for granted – but Felix Salmon, one of the real proponents of the medium, has a new post on RSS feeds and why they matter. First you should read his original post,* which argues that information providers (such as blogs) should provide full RSS feeds (including the full content of the article), like we do here, rather than truncated feeds (showing just the first few lines), which most but not all ad-supported web sites do. His argument is that the success of a blog depends on getting other bloggers and journalists to link to it, and those bloggers and journalists are far more likely to read your blog if you publish a full RSS feed. I believe his argument, but as he says in the new post, it would be nice to see some empirical research to know if we are wrong.

Like Felix, I read blogs through my RSS reader – Google Reader – and I basically never click through to read the full post if all I get is a truncated feed. So if a blog doesn’t publish a full feed, I am only likely to read a post if it is recommended or excerpted in a blog that does, such as Calculated Risk, Economist’s View, Marginal Revolution, etc. (I do scan a few online newspapers the old-fashioned way – on their web sites.)

Of course, I’m just one blogger, and if the really big guys like Paul Krugman and Andrew Sullivan are happy with truncated feeds, then Felix and I could be wrong. If anyone knows of any empirical research out there, please let us know.

* Yes, that post is by Felix, not by Ryan Avent, who replaced him at Portfolio earlier this year. In an impressive display of technical incompetence, Portfolio has not figured out how to show that some posts have one author and other posts have another offer. I know that they are going through hard times, but this can’t be that difficult.

By James Kwak

We’re on Kindle

At the request of a few readers, we’re now publishing the blog to Kindle. I have a suspicion that block quotes in some posts may not work properly. (I used to use a simple indent for block quotes; now I use the <blockquote> tag to try to solve this problem.)

I have never seen or touched a Kindle, so I have no way of testing it. Please let me know if you try this out and if you have any problems.

By James Kwak

Comment Etiquette

I am surprised and a little impressed, but not happy, about the lengths some people will go to to promote their views in our comments. I’ve noticed two disturbing bits of behavior recently. One is “replying” to the first comment on a long comment stream in order to boost your own comment up to the top of the page, when you are not responding to that first comment substantively. The second is posting comments under multiple identities in order to agree with yourself or, worse, to insult or attack other commenters. On one recent post, one person posted eight comments under five different names, only two of which were substantive.

There are various measures I could take to try to solve this problem, but all of them will create overhead for the community as a whole. So please stop.

Kindle and Facebook

1. I submitted the blog to Amazon for publication on the Kindle. Their form says they have a backlog, so we’ll see if it ever happens. If you have any pull at Amazon, put in a word for us.

2. We now have a Facebook page called The Baseline Scenario. If that link doesn’t work for you you should be able to search for it and then become a fan. The page imports the RSS feed from the blog, so you can read the blog without leaving Facebook, if that’s your cup of tea. There is also a Wall that you can post things to as usual. In the future, we may figure out more things to do on Facebook, but that’s it for now.*

We do these things (Twitter, too) because we want to make things easier for our readers. It’s a generally correct rule in business that it is a good thing to make life easier for your customers. I believe that if you want people to read your stuff, you have to go where they are – and if that’s Twitter, or Facebook, or Kindle, then that’s where you should be.

* Incidentally, I don’t understand the Facebook model. They seem to be trying to get people to use and enjoy the Internet within the tight confines of Facebook. This reminds me of the old days of CompuServe and AOL. Ordinarily when I work I have about 10-12 tabs open on my browser, and at most one of them is Facebook. There is so much stuff on the Internet, why would you limit yourself to the stuff your friends posted? Besides, I find their user interface non-intuitive, and with each iteration they make it less powerful – and I used to work at a software company.

Be Nice

Comments are an important part of this blog, and I’m sure that many of you read the blog as much for the comments as for the posts. I’m also very proud of the knowledge, intelligence, and writing ability of our commenters. Simon and I write about a wide range of topics, and so it is never a surprise to me to find comments from people who know any particular topic far better than I do. Looking at other economics blogs, I think we have one of the best discussion communities around, with both a large number and a high average quality of comments.

However, there has been a recent increase in the number of comments that can be construed as offensive in one way or another. While most hardened Internet commenters can probably take a personal  attack now and then, I’m afraid this will intimidate some people and deter them from joining the discussion. So we are creating some guidelines for comments, which are really nothing more than what you should have learned in kindergarten.

1. No profanity.

2. No attacks or insults aimed at other commenters. Calling a public official an idiot is one thing; calling someone who just wrote a comment an idiot is another.

3. No attacks or insults aimed at entire categories of people based on race, gender, religion, national origin or identity, or something similar.

If I see comments falling into these categories, I will delete them. I am also adding filters on a few words to flag comments for moderation. I expect most of those comments will be approved. For example, if you use the word “moronic,” I just want to check that you are referring to, say, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, not a previous comment.

Thank you for all of your comments. For those of you who do not comment, thank you for reading the blog. It’s no exaggeration to say that Simon and I would not be doing this if it were not for all of you.

By James Kwak

Comments and the Spam Filter

If your comments are not showing up: We use WordPress.com, and its optional spam filter, Akismet. I have no control over what Akismet flags as spam. Ordinarily it is very good, but I just looked in the spam folder and noticed that an unusually high number of legitimate comments got accidentally flagged as spam. I freed those I found from spam-land (which should help those of you who are serial commenters), but this problem may recur. I don’t have time to check the spam filter very often, but I will try to glance at it now and then.

We also filter for certain abusive or profane words and for people with a history of writing abusive comments (personal attacks on other people).

By James Kwak

More Housekeeping: PDF Archives

At the request of several readers, I’ve printed entire months of blog posts to PDFs for download. There is also a “Download the Blog (PDF)” link in the sidebar under navigation. This might be useful for new readers who want to catch up on a plane, or something like that.

I did this in a very low-tech way (explained after that link) so if you have suggestions for how to do it faster or more elegantly please post them there.

By James Kwak