Why the “red equals sign” campaign drives me a bit nuts

If you’ve looked at a social network the last few days, you’ve probably seen the “red equals sign” logo show up, showing support of the marriage equality, currently being debated in the U.S. Supreme Court. While I intended to stay silent about this campaign, now that it has taken off, I can’t hold it in: this red logo campaign is driving me a bit nuts.

Not for any political reason, of course. It’s just… the compression artifacts… they are the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

The red equals logo uses simple, continuous blocks of pixels, in only two colors. Unfortunately, the most popular image compression technology in the world, JPEG, which was built to compress photographs, turns out to be hideously awful at compressing simple blocks of same-color pixels. It winds up creating weird bands of unintended colors around the edges of such blocks. For example, here is a version of the logo (3,183 bytes), compressed with really low quality JPEG settings (to exaggerate the effect).

Equality, with horrible artifacts

The artifacts become less noticeable, but still present (especially if you are overly sensitive to them, like me), using a high quality JPEG compression (generating a file that is almost twice are large: 5,517 bytes):

Equality, with slightly less horrible artifacts

It gets even worse. Because JPEG is lossy, these compression artifacts get progressively worse as you re-compress the same image repeatedly. So, for example, if you found a JPEG of the red equals on the net, then uploaded to to, say, Facebook, chances are that Facebook recompressed it again, making the artifacts worse.

A different kind of compression—portable network graphics or PNG—is, in contrast, is extremely good at compressing large blocks of same-colored pixels, particularly in a limited color palette. It shows no compression artifacts and, since it is lossless, you can re-compress it over and over with no quality degradation. And, as a bonus, this file is only 1,590 bytes:


In support of the red equals sign, feel free to link directly to the PNG version above (/images/equality.png) in blog posts, avatar icons and so on. Or, copy and distribute at will. Hopefully my server will keep up.

The unequal spaceship

Imagine you are a member of an alien race that lives on a big arcology ship. The million of you on the ship mostly have jobs, and earn quatloos in exchange for work. Your society is divided into castes, depending on how many quatloos you earn. Most people are “betas”, and they live throughout the ship, some parts better than others. The top 10% of the earners, however, are “alphas”, and live in a special, luxurious compound within the ship. Since the alphas, even though a small portion of the population (100,000 out of the million), control half of the quatloos, they live really well.

One day, the ship-wide newscasts show you something odd. A small, but vocal portion of the alphas are protesting about income inequality. You watch the story, figuring they will talk about the big divide between the alphas and the betas, but they don’t. Instead, they are complaining that 1% of the other alphas control too large a portion of the collected wealth of the alphas. In other words, there are 1,000 “alpha primes” that have really pissed off the alphas.

Now, given that you are a beta, how much do you care about the plight of the alphas?

Translated to our own world (via the Global Rich List), if you make at least $25,140, you’d be an alpha.

How to trim a budget

Matthew Yglesias summarizes Stan Collender’s thoughts on cutting budgets like so:

…the key thing for any fiscal adjustment plan to say on the cut side isn’t really how much money you’re cutting, it’s what things do you want the government to stop doing. Once you name the things, you can total up the savings. Then you can either say you’ve cut enough, or else you can go back and name more things.

So with that in mind, here is what I’d like my government to stop doing, in no particular order. I want the government to stop…

The Cato Institute has very detailed thoughts about what they want the government to stop. The New York Times also offers and interactive method for playing with what stopping certain things will save. What do you want the government to stop doing?

(Hat tip to MN for pointing me to the original article.)

Raise a glass to Hick

No matter what your reaction to yesterday’s elections here in the States is, please take a moment tonight to join me in raising a pint to John Hickenlooper, the next governor of my home state of Colorado. Not just because Hick is a really good guy. Nor even because he knows how to make some really good beer.

Instead, raise a glass to Hickenlooper for starting his campaign with a pledge to avoid negative attack ads, and actually sticking to it. And also because the ads he did run were a cut above your average political shilling.

So, here’s to you, Governor Hickenlooper. (Now, if only this glass was filled with some Rail Yard.)

A quick primer on the health care bill

Until I get my more substantive post on the state of health care up, here is a quick primer on how the “sweeping health care overhaul legislation” will impact the nation.

Before bill: Health care degrading by the day due to unneeded, unwanted interference from corporations lining their own pockets. Hospitals closing because of it. Doctors no longer able to afford to practice. Government racking up debts for reasons mostly unrelated to health care.

After bill: Health care degrading by the day due to unneeded, unwanted interference from corporations lining their own pockets. Hospitals closing because of it. Doctors no longer able to afford to practice. Government racking up debts for reasons slightly more related to health care.

Repeating incentive failures

My Google news homepage tells me that the U.S. to increase pressure on mortgage industry. According to the article:

The Obama administration said Monday it will crack down on mortgage companies that are failing to do enough to help U.S. borrowers at risk of foreclosure, as part of a broad effort to ramp up participation in its mortgage assistance program. The Treasury Department said it will withhold payments from mortgage companies that aren’t doing enough to make the changes permanent.

I mention this just in case it wasn’t clear that the “Obama administration” has forgotten every economics class it ever took from people who know better.

Remember six months ago? The “Obama administration” doesn’t seem to. Remember when it seemed like all the banks were failing and screwed? Remember how that wasn’t actually true? How some banks were doing just fine, because they didn’t make stupid loans? Remember how those banks were given crappy ratings by the government due their fiscal responsibility? Oh… you don’t?

Well, consider Massachusetts bank East Bridgewater Savings. Back in March, when all the banks were going to hell, East Bridgewater Savings was doing fine:

Bad or delinquent loans?




Money set aside in 2008 for anticipated loan losses?


“We’re paranoid about credit quality,” Petrucelli said. The 62-year-old chief executive has run the bank since 1992.

East Bridgewater Savings ended 2008 with $135 million in assets and deposits of $84 million.

The bank even squeaked out a profit of $87,000. And its Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio was 31.6 percent, or more than three times higher than many community banks in Massachusetts.

In other words, rather than do the “predatory lending” and “sub-prime” shenanigans that the government and media would lead us to believe caused all this trouble, this particular bank only made reasonable loans, and avoided the problems entirely. But, for its trouble, the FDIC “slapped East Bridgewater Savings with a rare ‘needs to improve’ rating after evaluating the bank under the Community Reinvestment Act.”

The CRA is a set of laws that have been revised over the past 30 years to “encourage” banks to lend to local, low- and moderate-income borrowers. Because East Bridgewater Savings judged that giving loans for large houses to low-income families was not worth the risk, the FDIC essentially published a statement saying they were a bad bank.

Now, it is unlikely that the banks pushing subprime loans did so to avoid this FDIC ranking; they probably would have done it anyway. But it certainly is not particularly useful that, should you want to manage risk correctly, the government will tell the world you are an idiot for doing so. It is a totally misdirected incentive.

This current push from the Obama administration works in a similar way, offering incentives to force exactly the wrong kind of behavior.

Yeah, good luck with that

A quick prediction:

The president’s camp will prove to be completely unprepared for how many of Obama’s own supporters will bail on him over his Nobel Prize. All new presidents quickly gain some tarnish once they take office, but should he accept this award (and maybe even if he refuses it), the number of die-hard liberals I’ve seen literally rolling their eyes about it this morning suggests he’s about to loose a good chunk of the people who elected him.