Friday, January 31, 2014

Orangutan From Borneo Photographed Using a Spear Tool to Fish

a male orangutan, clinging precariously to overhanging branches, flails the water with a pole, trying desperately to spear a passing fish…

The extraordinary image, a world exclusive, was taken in Borneo on the island of Kaja…

This individual had seen locals fishing with spears on the Gohong River.

Although the method required too much skill for him to master, he was later able to improvise by using the pole to catch fish already trapped in the locals’ fishing lines.

- More Here

What I've Been Reading

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I think this is the first book in my recent memory I have re-read. Having respect for mother nature, getting ideas translated into math, understanding limitations of our math and most importantly getting deep into an idea are all timeless traits one needs to learn from Taleb. 

The postcrash years were entertaining for me, intellectually. I attended conferences in finance and mathematics of uncertainty; not once did I find a speaker, Nobel or no Nobel, who understood what he was talking about when it came to probability, so I could freak them out with my questions . They did “deep work in mathematics,” but when you asked them where they got their probabilities, their explanations made it clear that they had fallen for the ludic fallacy— there was a strange cohabitation of technical skills and absence of understanding that you find in idiot savants. Not once did I get an intelligent answer or one that was not ad hominem. Since I was questioning their entire business, it was understandable that I drew all manner of insults: “obsessive,”“commercial,”“philosophical,”“essayist,”“idle man of leisure,” “repetitive,”“practitioner” (this is an insult in academia), “academic” (this is an insult in business). Being on the receiving end of angry insults is not that bad; you can get quickly used to it and focus on what is not said. Pit traders are trained to handle angry rants . If you work in the chaotic pits, someone in a particularly bad mood from losing money might start cursing at you until he injures his vocal cords, then forget about it and, an hour later, invite you to his Christmas party. So you become numb to insults, particularly if you teach yourself to imagine that the person uttering them is a variant of a noisy ape with little personal control. Just keep your composure, smile, focus on analyzing the speaker not the message, and you’ll win the argument. An ad hominem attack against an intellectual, not against an idea, is highly flattering. It indicates that the person does not have anything intelligent to say about your message.

I often hear people say, “Of course there are limits to our knowledge,” then invoke the greater uncertainty principle as they try to explain that “we cannot model everything”— I have heard such types as the economist Myron Scholes say this at conferences. But I am sitting here in New York, in August 2006, trying to go to my ancestral village of Amioun, Lebanon. Beirut’s airport is closed owing to the conflict between Israel and the Shiite militia Hezbollah. There is no published airline schedule that will inform me when the war will end , if it ends. I can’t figure out if my house will be standing, if Amioun will still be on the map— recall that the family house was destroyed once before. I can’t figure out whether the war is going to degenerate into something even more severe. Looking into the outcome of the war, with all my relatives, friends, and property exposed to it, I face true limits of knowledge. Can someone explain to me why I should care about subatomic particles that , anyway, converge to a Gaussian? People can’t predict how long they will be happy with recently acquired objects, how long their marriages will last, how their new jobs will turn out, yet it’s subatomic particles that they cite as “limits of prediction.” They’re ignoring a mammoth standing in front of them in favor of matter even a microscope would not allow them to see.

Half the time I am shallow, the other half I want to avoid shallowness. I am shallow when it comes to aesthetics; I avoid shallowness in the context of risks and returns. My aestheticism makes me put poetry before prose, Greeks before Romans, dignity before elegance, elegance before culture, culture before erudition, erudition before knowledge, knowledge before intellect, and intellect before truth. But only for matters that are Black Swan free. Our tendency is to be very rational, except when it comes to the Black Swan.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who is Vandana Shiva & Why is She Saying Such Awful Things About GMOs?

One problem with Shiva’s argument: terminator genes have never been developed; they are a fiction of the anti-GMO movement, perpetuated by Shiva and her followers and the journalists that enable her. As Lynas has written, “You don’t need the intelligence of a Richard Dawkins or indeed a Charles Darwin to understand that sterility is not a great selective advantage when it comes to reproduction, hence the regular observed failure of sterile couples to breed large numbers of children. As Shiva’s case so clearly shows, if we reject data-driven empiricism and evidence as the basis for identifying and solving problems, we have nothing left but vacuous ideology and self-referential myth-making.”

Vandana Shiva’s influence in the world of agriculture, technology and development shows no signs of waning. She continues to receive accolades in the media, collects humanitarian awards and is regularly bestowed with honorary degrees from universities across North America (most recently an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Victoria in Canada).

Shiva says Golden Rice can’t work but published studies show that it does work. She claims Indian farmers commit suicide because of Bt cotton while careful academic studies show that Indian farmers who plant Bt cotton earn more money per hectare and are no more likely to commit suicide than organic farmers. She claims that seed companies are distributing ‘terminator genes’ that will will bankrupt them when no such seeds exist. She claims that no famine existed in India before the Green Revolution when the Indian government itself has published the data on lives lost to starvation.

- More here on her dissonance and bull shit

Dogs Are Not People

So if dogs “love” us, what kind of love is it? Never afraid to ask tough questions, Berns takes us with him on his fascinating pursuit. If he stops short of giving dogs and humans equal purchase on emotions such as love and attachment—leaving dog sentience at the level of a child’s—he nevertheless proves that dogs and humans share physiological mechanisms and coexist not only on an emotional but also on a cognitive level. Dogs might even be our best teachers. “Could it be that our dogs tell us more about our human relationships than we tell ourselves?” he asks. Dogs know us and attend to our desires. The most we can do is inhabit the reciprocal possession, the responsibilities and ties, the mutuality of adaptation that Berns calls for with such candor and wonder.

At a time when some animal rights advocates argue for the extermination of dogs rather than have them suffer the indignity of being pets, I thank Berns for his wit and grace, for his courage in writing so that the contradictions of human and dog relationships remain intact, in all their wayward, messy, ambiguous, and paradoxical effects. Instead of attempting to define how and where we draw the line between humans and dogs, Berns helps us to understand—sometimes in spite of himself—how, where, and why human beings, often arbitrarily, devise, formulate, and apply lines separating the human and animal—or deliberately blur those lines.

Now let’s go further. We need to think again about dogs, as Berns suggests, but as the ground for human sensibility and cognition, not the other way around. In such a terrain, even the word “love” can be redeemed. And, perhaps, even the notion of “human.”

- Colin Dayan reviews How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns

Bruce Lee's Best Productivity Tricks

Get Rid of the Unessential:
Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do as a system of martial arts and philosophy. The basic philosophy of this system was to reduce movement and thought to just the essential actions. In Lee's words, it's to "Hack away at the unessential" because "the height of cultivation always runs on simplicity."

Pay Attention to How You Interact with Others:
Awareness is without choice, without demand, without anxiety; in that state of mind, there is perception. To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.

Balance Your "Thinking Time" and Your "Doing Time":
When our mind is tranquil, there will be an occasional pause to its feverish activities, there will be a let-go, and it is only then in the interval between two thoughts that a flash of UNDERSTANDING — understanding, which is not thought — can take place... Balance your thoughts with action. — If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done.

Remain Fluid:
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. That water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

After Death, H.M.’s Brain Uploaded to the Cloud

H.M. had one of the most important brains in the world, at least if you ask a neuroscientist. In 1953, at age 27, he underwent experimental brain surgery to treat the terrible seizures that had plagued him since childhood. The seizures quieted after surgeon William Beecher Scoville removed pieces of the temporal lobes above his ears — including, notably, large parts of the hippocampus — but it came at the cost of permanent amnesia. For the rest of his life, H.M. could only hold on to memories of events that happened before his surgery.

Though he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast, H.M. could learn new motor memory tasks and had normal intelligence, illustrating both the specificity of the hippocampus and the multifaceted nature of memory. All of this we know thanks to decades of work by Suzanne Corkin and her colleagues at McGill University and MIT. As Corkin writes in her fascinating new book Permanent Present Tense*, “Henry’s disability, a tremendous cost to him and his family, became science’s gain.”

H.M. not only participated in hundreds of studies while he was alive, but donated his brain to science. The morning after H.M. died, a groggy and jet-lagged Annese knew that this brain tissue might pay scientific dividends for many decades to come — but only if the extraction went smoothly

- More Here

Flash Boys - Michael Lewis's New Book

Michael Lewis, whose colorful reporting on money and excess on Wall Street has made him one of the country’s most popular business journalists, has written a new book on the financial world, his publisher said on Tuesday.

The book, titled “Flash Boys,” will be released by W.W. Norton & Company on March 31. A spokeswoman for Norton said the new book “is squarely in the realm of Wall Street.”

Starling Lawrence, Mr. Lewis’s editor, said in a statement: “Michael is brilliant at finding the perfect narrative line for any subject. That’s what makes his books, no matter the topic, so indelibly memorable.”

- More Here and Pre-order Here

A New Physics Theory of Life

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His idea, detailed in a recent paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.

- Friedrich A. Hayek

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy by Tim Harford.

Macroeconomics is hard. You have ten billion distinct varieties of product, seven billion people, countless unobservable transactions. 2 The economy is shaped by psychology, history, culture, unforeseeable new technologies, geological and climatic events, computer trades too quick for humans to perceive, and much else. It is a dizzying, imponderable problem. No wonder we struggle.

Tim does an excellent job of explaining macro economics concepts in a simplified Q&A format while following Einstein's heuristic. And Tim's sense of humor makes it more fun:

When Nicolas Sarkozy was president of France he commissioned three renowned economists, Joseph Stiglitz (a Nobel laureate), Amartya Sen (another Nobel laureate) and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, to contemplate alternatives to GDP. One possible reason for President Sarkozy’s enthusiasm was surely that the French spend most of their time not working, and this lowers France’s GDP. The country is likely to look better on most alternative indices. It’s not unreasonable to look at those alternatives, but let’s not kid ourselves: politicians are always on the lookout for statistical measures that reflect well on them.

You cannot find a better book to understand macroeconomics - highly recommended. 

Quote of the Day

When I tell someone that the most important thing a young woman can do to avoid being raped is to avoid places with lots of young men (and if you absolutely have to go to those place, don't drink) the dumb responses range from: 'Girls have a right to have fun' to 'You're just blaming the victim' all the way up to the ludicrous, 'A woman should be able to walk naked into a biker bar and not be bothered.' These are political ideals. They might even be the way the world should work. They are not the way the world actually works. The responsibility for self-protection has to rest with the potential victim because the potential rapist has no interest whatsoever in her safety or rights. The potential victim is the one who cares.

- Rory Miller, Violence: A Writer's Guide 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Future of Employment - How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?


We examine how susceptible jobs are to computerisation. To as- sess this, we begin by implementing a novel methodology to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, using a Gaussian process classifier. Based on these estimates, we examine ex- pected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes, with the primary objective of analysing the number of jobs at risk and the relationship between an occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and educational attainment. According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. We further provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relation- ship with an occupation’s probability of computerization.

- Full paper here

Life as a Nonvoilent Psychopath

I read about James Fallon's work few years ago on WSJ and it completely changed my understanding of genetics and nature vs nurture debate.  Now, he has a new book about his research and findings - The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey Into the Dark Side of the Brain. If you don't have time to read his book, then I highly recommend this interview which is full of surprises and insights:

You used to believe that people were roughly 80 percent the result of genetics, and 20 percent the result of their environment. How did this discovery cause a shift in your thinking?

I went into this with the bias of a scientist who believed, for many years, that genetics were very, very dominant in who people are—that your genes would tell you who you were going to be. It's not that I no longer think that biology, which includes genetics, is a major determinant; I just never knew how profoundly an early environment could affect somebody.

While I was writing this book, my mother started to tell me more things about myself. She said she had never told me or my father how weird I was at certain points in my youth, even though I was a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. And as I was growing up, people all throughout my life said I could be some kind of gang leader or Mafioso don because of certain behavior. Some parents forbade their children from hanging out with me. They'd wonder how I turned out so well—a family guy, successful, professional, never been to jail and all that.

And though there isn't an absolute "fix," you talk about the importance of the "fourth trimester"—the months following a baby's birth when bonding is key. What are other really crucial moments where you can see how someone may be at risk, or where this convergence of genetics and environment might be crucial for intervention, or at least identifying what is happening?

There are some critical periods in human development. For the epigenome, the first moment is the moment of conception. That is when the genetics are very vulnerable to methylation and, therefore, the effects of a harsh environment: the mother under stress, the mother taking drugs, alcohol, and things like that. The second greatest susceptibility is the moment of birth and, of course, there are the third and fourth trimesters. After that, there is a slow sort of susceptibility curve that goes down.

The first two years of life are critical if you overlap them with the emergence of what are called complex adaptive behaviors. When children are born they have some natural kinds of genetic programming. For example, a kid will show certain kinds of fear—of certain people, then of strangers, then it’s acceptance of people—that’s complex-adaptive behavior at work in social interactions. But even laughing, and smiling, and making raspberry sounds are all complex-adaptive behaviors, and they will emerge automatically. You don't need to be taught these things.

One idea is that over the first three years there are 350 very early complex adaptive behaviors that go in sequence, but if somehow you’re interrupted with a stressor, it will affect that particular behavior that’s emerging or just about to emerge. It could be at a year and half, 3 months, or 12 months. After that, the effects of environment really start to drop; by the time you start hitting puberty, you kind of get locked in. And during puberty your frontal lobe system does a switch.

Before puberty, a lot of your brain–your frontal lobe and its connections—has to do with the orbital cortex, amygdala, and that lower half of the brain that controls emotional regulation. It is also the origin of people's natural sense of morality, when they learn regulation and the rules of the game, which are ethics. Before then, generally, a normal kid is very much living in a world of id—eating, drinking, some sexuality—but they’re also extremely moralistic. So, those are two things that are fighting each other those first years.

Then, there’s a switch that occurs late in adolescence. For some people it could be 17, 18, 19, or 20-years-old. What happens is that the upper part of the brain, the frontal lobe and its connections, start to mature. That's a critical time because that’s usually when you see schizophrenia, some forms of depression, and those major psychiatric disorders emerge. For personality disorders it’s not really known when they will emerge because it’s very understudied. People will say, you can’t do anything about it, it’s locked in and there seems to be almost no treatment. Whereas, for things like depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, you can do something about it. There are drugs, or things you can do with brain stimulation and talk therapy, so that's where Big Pharma and the whole industry goes.

You start to really see personality disorders emerge around puberty, but for some children who might be primary psychopaths—that is, they have all the genes and their brain sort of set in the third trimester—this can start emerging very early, around 2 or 3-years-old. That is why we have to have more trained eyes—because that is where this becomes important for society.

A primary psychopath won't necessarily be dangerous, but if we can see that in a kid, we can tell parents to look for certain kinds of behavior. And if those behaviors emerge, we can safely discuss, protecting the privacy of that family and of the kid, how to have the child interact with a nurse practitioner or a trained professional. At that point, we can say: Make sure this kid is never bullied in school; keep them away from street violence, on and on.

A lot of kids, most kids, get bullied and they may get pissed off, but that doesn’t create a personality disorder. But there are 20 percent of kids who are really susceptible and they may ultimately be triggered for a personality disorder in puberty. If we know these children can be helped by making sure that they aren't abused or abandoned—because you've got to get there really early—well, then, that would be important to do. I don't mean to preach.

Can Reading Make You Smarter?

There is evidence that reading can increase levels of all three major categories of intelligence. I believe my discovery of Spider-Man and other comic books turned me into a straight-A student.
  1. First, there is "crystallised intelligence" – the potpourri of knowledge that fills your brain. When you learn how to ride a bicycle, or the name of a new friend, you are gaining not just information but potentially useful knowledge that, in aggregate, forms the backbone of your ability to navigate and thrive in the world. By adding to that storehouse, reading increases your crystallised intelligence. That explains why some IQ tests include vocabulary words, which generally serve as a reliable proxy of how clever you are.
  2. But all of us know people with little "book knowledge" who are nonetheless sharp and insightful. "Fluid intelligence" is that ability to solve problems, understand things and detect meaningful patterns. Of course, you can read little or nothing at all and still be brilliant at "reading between the lines" of a conversation. But in today's world, fluid intelligence and reading generally go hand in hand. But if reading can increase fluid intelligence, the converse is also true: increased fluid intelligence also improves reading comprehension, according to studies by Jason Chein of Temple University in Philadelphia. He used "working memory" tasks that train people's ability to juggle and continually update multiple items of attention – to keep track of a moving dot, for instance, and recognise when it lands on a spot it occupied two, three or more moves ago. In papers published in scientific journals in 2010 and 2011, he showed that as both younger and older adults improved their performance on working-memory tasks, they were better able to comprehend reading materials.
  3. A third type of intelligence has gained widespread interest of late: "emotional intelligence", the ability to accurately read and respond to your own and others' feelings. It may seem odd to imagine that reading can improve your emotional intelligence. But in October, the journal Science published an extraordinary study showing that reading literary fiction can improve people's theory of mind (ToM) – their ability to understand others' mental states. 
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Predicts a Healthy Diet?

Not the nutrients, not even the calorie count, but whether the meal was cooked by a human being rather than a corporation. 

– animated wisdom from Michael Pollan, author of the most important food politics book of the past century as well as the indispensable Food Rules and, most recently, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, a fascinating look at how cooking civilized us.

The Four Freedoms

Eleven months before the U.S. declared war on Japan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone.” He articulated four fundamental freedoms that everyone in the world ought to enjoy:

1. Freedom of speech.
2. Freedom of worship.
3. Freedom from want.
4. Freedom from fear.

Fast forward 72 years: technology has advanced at dizzying rates and permeated every aspect of our lives, from how we are born to how we die and everything in between. In this co-evolution of society and technology, what it means to be truly “free” is no longer about just the country we live in, or even its laws, but is shaped by the products we live on.

In the early nineties, a prescient hacker named Richard Stallman — working at MIT, where today’s future had already happened — recognized this shift. He proposed a set of four freedoms that were fundamental for software in an enlightened, tech-dependent society.

0. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.

1. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
2. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, giving the community a chance to benefit from your changes.

The four freedoms don’t limit us as creators — they open possibilities for us as creators and consumers. When you apply them to software, you get Linux, Webkit/Chrome, and WordPress. When you apply them to medicine, you get the Open Genomics Engine, which is accelerating cancer research and bringing us closer to personalized treatment. When you apply them to companies, you get radically geographically distributed, results-based organizations like Automattic. When you apply them to events you get TEDx, Barcamp, and WordCamp. When you apply them to knowledge, you get Wikipedia.

William Gibson is attributed with saying “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” The world is changing faster than any one person or organization can keep up with it. Closed off, proprietary development creates closed off, proprietary products that won’t keep pace in the long run. Open source provides another path — one that’s open to everyone, and can take advantage of the skills and talents of anyone in the world to build software that helps everyone.
As Bill Joy said, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” Good ideas aren’t the sole province of groups of people behind high walls, and software shouldn’t be either.

- More Here

Inner Balance

A lot of modern culture is built around the assumption that, in the case of anything good, more is better. But, of course, that's patently false. Positive emotions are very good. But that doesn't mean that we need an unbalanced diet of glee each day.

The holiest spot in ancient Greece, the Oracle at Delphi, greeted visitors with two pieces of advice inscribed in marble. The first, perhaps the single most famous injunctive in human history was the simple imperative, "Know Yourself." The second was the much lesser known, but equally important, prescriptive, "Nothing in Excess." Pilgrims to the Oracle would go away from reading these two inscriptions with the understanding that they should be asking then, and throughout their lives, "What's the right balance point, or proper measure of anything, for me?" They might also be encouraged to ask: "What's important to me?" And: "What's enough for me?"

In our inner lives, excess is seldom helpful and healthy, and especially, over time. Bursts of excitement are wonderful. There's nothing wrong with occasions for indulgent ecstasy. But is more always better? We ought to be asking questions like: What's excessive in my inner life right now? How can I avoid it? What's the proper balance, in my values, attitudes, emotions, aspirations, and thoughts, as well as in my outer actions and activities? The inner should really come first. It's responsible for the outer. When we get that right, we stand a chance of getting other things right. So when you notice something about your outer activities that seems out of balance, look within as the first step toward righting things. Engage in the Socratic act of self-examination. But not, of course, excessively.

- Tom Morris

Quote of the Day

If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Population of Indian States vs Countries

Wisdom Of The Week

The world is full of people who will tell you that there is. Tie your currency to gold! Always balance your budget! Protect manufacturing! Eliminate red tape! That kind of thing. You can safely ignore these people. Anyone who insists that running a modern economy is a matter of plain common sense frankly doesn’t understand much about running a modern economy.

This week I started reading Tim Harford's new book The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy. It's a must read and cannot recommend more. Tim does a brilliant job of explaining most of the important macro-economic concepts from both sides of the aisle in a simplified conversational style sans any biases.

Is there a way to reconcile the classical and Keynesian views? As it happens, there is. In fact, for many economists there’s no need to reconcile anything. Sometimes economies suffer from demand shocks and sometimes they suffer from supply shocks. Both the Keynesian and classical perspectives can be helpful, depending on the circumstances.

There’s a reconciliation on a geekier level, too. Much of modern macroeconomics is some kind of synthesis of classical and Keynesian analytical techniques— but that is far too technical for us to worry about.

But there is also a really simple way to combine the two views. We need to introduce a concept you’ll hear discussed often in economics— the “short run” and the “long run.” Most economists would agree that in the short run, it is Keynes’s Law that is relevant. Many recessions happen because of a lack of demand, and this lack of demand can be fixed by smart policymakers working with the right tools. And most economists would also agree that in the long run, it is Say’s Law that counts: ultimately the output of an economy is determined by its capacity to supply goods and services. Given enough time, demand will catch up and that potential to supply will be fulfilled.

Even this is an oversimplification. The 1970s oil shocks happened very quickly, but they were a classical problem, and Keynesian, demand-side approaches would not have helped. Still, “short-run Keynes, long-run classical” is not a bad rule of thumb.

Also I highly recommend Tim Harford's weekly BBC podcast - Popup Economics.

“The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts.  .  .  . He must be a mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher— in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard.”

John Maynard Keynes

Quote of the Day

The experience of research takes place as a struggle with the mystery of reality, according to the partial but original perspective offered by the scientific method. In various ways, scientists are moved by the hope of grasping the order and direction of the natural world, taking account of it in the cosmic context in which we live, and catching sight of the possible unity of the universe behind the multiplicity of forms. For the scientist in action, the basic questions relate to this struggle; they are implicitly but potentially at work in the very movement of knowledge, in research into the twists and turns and the matter of the material world. In this sense, scientific knowledge, too, is in its way a manifestation of that incurable tendency of the human being to ask why things are as they are, never satisfied with partial answers. That does not mean that the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious sense involves building an improbable bridge between two distant banks; rather, scientific research proves to have its seed and its profound roots in the human need for satisfaction and meaning.

- From Galileo to Gell-Mann: The Wonder that Inspired the Greatest Scientists of All Time: In Their Own Words by Marco Bersanelli and Marco Gargantini

Friday, January 24, 2014

1914 Revisited - Is US China War Inevitable?

The question we face today is whether it could happen again. Margaret MacMillan, author of the interesting new book The War that Ended Peace, argues that, “it is tempting – and sobering – to compare today’s relationship between China and the US with that between Germany and Britain a century ago.” After drawing a similar comparison, The Economist concludes that “the most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency.” And some political scientists, such as John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, have argued that, “to put it bluntly: China cannot rise peacefully.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphBut historical analogies, though sometimes useful for precautionary purposes, become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inevitability. WWI was not inevitable. It was made more probable by Germany’s rising power and the fear that this created in Great Britain. But it was also made more probable by Germany’s fearful response to Russia’s rising power, as well as myriad other factors, including human errors. But the gap in overall power between the US and China today is greater than that between Germany and Britain in 1914.

In other words, the US has more time to manage its relations with a rising power than Britain did a century ago. Too much fear can be self-fulfilling. Whether the US and China will manage their relationship well is another question. But how they do so will be dictated by human choice, not some ironclad historical law.

Among the lessons to be learned from the events of 1914 is to be wary of analysts wielding historical analogies, particularly if they have a whiff of inevitability. War is never inevitable, though the belief that it is can become one of its causes.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

  1. The first theme is the simple entrepreneurial hustle required in a dirty, somewhat dangerous, fast moving emerging market. The self-help structure is a parody, but effectively conveys the underlying truth which is that only relentless do-anything go-getter win in “Rising Asia.” (The namelessness of places and people – “Rising Asia” is the setting of the book, “you” the protagonist, and “Pretty Girl” the main romantic interest – permits readers to interpret its various lessons as broadly as possible.)
  2. The second theme that resonated is the relationship between romance and careerism. The protagonist’s marriage falls apart because of his relentless focus on his career. And the real object of his sexual desires is not his wife but another girl who also happens to be obsessed with her career, and therefore stays firmly single despite an occasional hotel rendezvous together. Two careerists do not a couple make.
  3. Third, I learned that the humanity of a person gets brought into relief from the juxtaposition of flaws and virtues. For example, in this book, the protagonist entrepreneur essentially misleads customers about the authenticity of his product; bribes government officials; hires employee based on nepotism; and commits other unethical or unwise acts. Yet he somehow maintains your sympathy throughout. Why? His flaws are rationalized with an air of reasonableness, and he maintains several other virtues besides. Real people tend to be a bundle of the good and bad and complicated shades of both all at the same time. Skilled writers direct a wide lens to capture this nuance–we see flaw and virtue together, and it reminds us of ourselves, and makes the whole story feel relatable.

    - Ben Casnocha reviews How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The 25 Worst Passwords of 2013

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. abc123
  6. 123456789
  7. 111111
  8. 1234567
  9. iloveyou
  10. adobe123
  11. 123123
  12. admin
  13. 1234567890
  14. letmein
  15. photoshop
  16. 1234
  17. monkey
  18. shadow
  19. sunshine
  20. 12345
  21. password1
  22. princess
  23. azerty
  24. trustno1
  25. 000000
- More Here

How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid

First he’d need data. While his dissertation work continued to run on the side, he set up 12 fake OkCupid accounts and wrote a Python script to manage them. The script would search his target demographic (heterosexual and bisexual women between the ages of 25 and 45), visit their pages, and scrape their profiles for every scrap of available information: ethnicity, height, smoker or nonsmoker, astrological sign—“all that crap,” he says.

To find the survey answers, he had to do a bit of extra sleuthing. OkCupid lets users see the responses of others, but only to questions they’ve answered themselves. McKinlay set up his bots to simply answer each question randomly—he wasn’t using the dummy profiles to attract any of the women, so the answers didn’t mat­ter—then scooped the women’s answers into a database.

McKinlay watched with satisfaction as his bots purred along. Then, after about a thousand profiles were collected, he hit his first roadblock. OkCupid has a system in place to prevent exactly this kind of data harvesting: It can spot rapid-fire use easily. One by one, his bots started getting banned.

He would have to train them to act human.

- More Here  and Christopher McKinlay even wrote a book on this - Optimal Cupid: Mastering the Hidden Logic of OkCupid

Quote of the Day

At first this was a purely private arrangement: a merchant with some gold would rent space in a secure vault from a goldsmith. The goldsmith would give him a note acknowledging that the gold belonged to the merchant. If the merchant wanted to buy something from a second merchant, he’d take the note to the goldsmith, collect his gold, use the gold in the trade, and then the second merchant would take the gold back to the goldsmith and collect his credit note. After a while, it became obvious that it was easier to pass around the credit notes than to go back and forth to the goldsmith all the time.

Banknotes such as the U.S. dollar and the pound sterling were descendants of this system. (Paper money has a much longer history, however. Kublai Khan, Chinese emperor in the thirteenth century, introduced a system of purely paper money that astounded the visiting Italian merchant Marco Polo.) Modern British and old American notes promise to pay “the bearer on demand,” a promise that once referred to redeeming the banknote in gold, just as with the private goldsmiths’ banknotes. But modern currency is no longer linked to gold at all—it once was but most countries broke that link, the “gold standard,” in the early 1930s.

- Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Inverse Logic of Life - David Brooks

So what is the inverse logic of life?
  • You have to give to receive.
  • You have to surrender to something outside yourself to give strength within yourself.
  • You have to conquer your desire to get what you want.
  • In order to fulfill yourself you have to forget yourself.
  • The greatest success leads to greatest failure which is pride.
  • The greatest failure leads to greatest success which is learning.

Quote of the Day

So the thing that really has motivated me in writing the book is trying to think about this miracle of human civilization. No other species on the planet can cooperate unless they are siblings. So that bees, ants, wasps, termites, and naked mole rats can all live in giant structures that they've built together because they are all sisters, or sisters and brothers. But humans develop this ability to work together in all kinds of ways, not just people who are not kin but even with strangers. You and I have never met but we are able to cooperate and put on this podcast. We're just so good at this. How did that happen? And so, you know, we could look at language; we could look at all sorts of things that allowed us to interact. But what allowed us to actually trust each other and not take advantage of each other and to reap the benefits of cooperation? And the story I tell in the book is that morality serves a variety of functions but they are social functions, one of which is to bind groups together in ways so that they can cooperate to compete against other groups. And so what we gain in cohesion we often lose in open-mindedness. And you see this on Capitol Hill all the time--one side, the mere fact that one side proposes something means the other side will suddenly do everything it can show why that's wrong.

- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Posthumanities) by Timothy  Morton.

What are hyper-objects:
In The Ecological Thought I coined the term hyperobjects to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans. 
  • A hyperobject could be a black hole. 
  • A hyperobject could be the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador, or the Florida Everglades. 
  • A hyperobject could be the biosphere, or the Solar System.
  • A hyperobject could be the sum total of all the nuclear materials on Earth; or just the plutonium, or the uranium. 
  • A hyperobject could be the very long-lasting product of direct human manufacture, such as Styrofoam or plastic bags, or the sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism. Hyperobjects, then, are “hyper” in relation to some other entity, whether they are directly manufactured by humans or not.
Bottom line - Black Swans are random, unpredictable and uncertain future events which most of our cognition cannot comprehend and none of us can predict (of-course we can eloquently weave a narrative fallacy using hindsight wisdom). Where as hyper-objects are everywhere and currently happening (also in the past and present) but yet our cognition cannot comprehend.
Give that our brains is driven by cognitive fluency and language; I love that Morton coined the term "hyper-objects". But I was disappointed he mostly makes a case for global warming and merely brushes other issues (to be fair, global warming was the reason he coined this term).
  • Hyperobjects have already ushered in a new human phase of hypocrisy, weakness, and lameness: these terms have a very specific resonance in this study, and I shall explore them in depth. Hypocrisy results from the conditions of the impossibility of a metalanguage (and as I shall explain, we are now freshly aware of these conditions because of the ecological emergency); weakness from the gap between phenomenon and thing, which the hyperobject makes disturbingly visible; and lameness from the fact that all entities are fragile (as a condition of possibility for their existence), and hyperobjects make this fragility conspicuous. 3 Hyperobjects are also changing human art and experience (the aesthetic dimension). We are now in what I call the Age of Asymmetry.
  • That the terms are presented as choices rather than as a package is a symptom of this failure, since logically it is correct to say “climate change as a result of global warming,” where “climate change” is just a compression of a more detailed phrase, a metonymy. If this is not the case, then climate change as a substitute for global warming is like “cultural change” as a substitute for Renaissance, or “change in living conditions” as a substitute for Holocaust. Climate change as substitute enables cynical reason (both right wing and left) to say that the “climate has always been changing,” which to my ears sounds like using “people have always been killing one another” as a fatuous reason not to control the sale of machine guns.
  • The panic and denial and right-wing absurdity about global warming are understandable. Hyperobjects pose numerous threats to individualism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, racism, speciesism, anthropocentrism, you name it. Possibly even capitalism itself.
  • All humans, I shall argue, are now aware that they have entered a new phase of history in which nonhumans are no longer excluded or merely decorative features of their social, psychic, and philosophical space.
  • On every right side mirror of every American car is engraved an ontological slogan that is highly appropriate for our time: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. Not only do I fail to access hyperobjects at a distance, but it also becomes clearer with every passing day that “distance” is only a psychic and ideological construct designed to protect me from the nearness of things. There is a reason why they call it “the schizophrenic defense” when someone has a psychotic break. Could it be that the very attempt to distance is not a product of some true assessment of things, but is and was always a defense mechanism against a threatening proximity?
  • A Styrofoam cup will outlive me by over four hundred years. The plastic bag in Ramin Bahrani’s movie (in the voice of Werner Herzog) wishes to talk to the woman it knows as its maker, the woman who used it to carry her groceries: “If I could meet my maker, I would tell her just one thing: I wish that she had created me so that I could die.” 9 To hear a plastic bag wish such a thing is profoundly different from thinking abstract infinity. There is a real sense in which it is far easier to conceive of “forever” than very large finitude. Forever makes you feel important. One hundred thousand years makes you wonder whether you can imagine one hundred thousand anything. It seems rather abstract to imagine that a book is one hundred thousand words long.
  • Two hundred years of idealism, two hundred years of seeing humans at the center of existence, and now the objects take revenge, terrifyingly huge, ancient, long-lived, threateningly minute, invading every cell in our body. When we flush the toilet, we imagine that the U-bend takes the waste away into some ontologically alien realm. Ecology is now beginning to tell us about something very different: a flattened world without ontological U-bends. A world in which there is no “away.”
  • Two and a half thousand people showed up at the University of Arizona in Tucson for a series of talks on cosmology. Evidently there is a thirst for thinking about the universe as a whole. Why is the same fascination not there for global warming? It’s because of the oppressive claustrophobic horror of actually being inside it.
  • Marxists will argue that huge corporations are responsible for ecological damage and that it is self-destructive to claim that we are all responsible. Marxism sees the “ethical” response to the ecological emergency as hypocrisy. Yet according to many environmentalists and some anarchists , in denying that individuals have anything to do with why Exxon pumps billions of barrels of oil, Marxists are displacing the blame away from humans. This view sees the Marxist “political” response to the ecological emergency as hypocrisy.

Quote of the Day

Live all you can: it's a mistake not to. It doesn't matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had?

- Henry James, The Ambassadors

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Elephant Within

A wild elephant accidentally breaks the leg of a passing camel driver, then scoots him under a tree and stands guard for a day until the man is discovered by a search party.

Upon being captured, a bull elephant audibly weeps, tears streaming from his eyes. Around him other captive elephants lie prostrate, silently crying.

Placed in a sanctuary for elephants retired from zoos and circuses, two elephants who’d once worked in the same circus are reunited. It’s been 22 years. Put in adjacent stalls, they explore each other with their trunks and then try to climb in together. They both begin to roar loudly. Allowed in the same pen, they become inseparable from that day forward.

What of keeping these enormous animals captive for our entertainment? The best facilities cannot support the herd environment elephants are adapted to, and some animals live without a single pachyderm companion. Living in pens, the animals are bored, even when they are not in physical discomfort—and they often are. The structure of elephants’ feet, made to absorb seismic waves, makes them “especially susceptible to distress . . . severe elephant foot problems are depressingly common in zoos and other captive situations, where the animals must stand on concrete.” Some American zoos, deciding that the elephant cannot ethically be kept captive, have sent their star attractions to sanctuaries.

The elephant is due these kindnesses, even if, Nicol concedes, its inner life remains opaque to us. She quotes the naturalist Henry Beston, who, in The Outermost House (1928), wrote, 

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. . . . In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

- More Here

Why Watson Can't Get a Job?

IBM Chief Executive Officer Virginia Rometty has promised that Watson will generate $10 billion in annual revenue within 10 years, but according to the Journal, as of last October Watson was far behind projections, only bringing in $100 million.

Klaus-Peter Adlassnig is a computer scientist at the Medical University of Vienna and the editor-in-chief of the journal Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. The problem with Watson, as he sees it, is that it’s essentially a really good search engine that can answer questions posed in natural language. Over time, Watson does learn from its mistakes, but Adlassnig suspects that the sort of knowledge Watson acquires from medical texts and case studies is “very flat and very broad.” In a clinical setting, the computer would make for a very thorough but cripplingly literal-minded doctor—not necessarily the most valuable addition to a medical staff. There may well come a day when computers can spit out diagnoses and treatment regimens, leaving doctors little to do but enter data and hone their bedside manner, but that day has not yet come.

- More Here

I am Significant Therefore I am !!

APOCALYPTICAL - A must watch from Radiolab (I prefer the audio version).

Quote of the Day

Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.

- Warren Buffett

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Charlie Munger's Lollapalooza Effect Explains Why CrossFit Works

Charlie Munger's 'lollapalooza' effect:

Munger gave a talk that focused on the causes of psychological misjudgement. He lists 24 factors total, but what's truly interesting for CrossFit is what he went on to describe as the 'lollapalooza' effect that occurs when several of these psychological factors combine. He asks, "What happens when the situation, or the artful manipulation of man, causes several of these tendencies to operate on a person toward the same end at the same time?"

And his answer is that, "the combination greatly increases power to change behavior, compared to the power of merely one tendency acting alone." The difference, though, isn't just one of addition, but multiplication. Sometimes exponential multiplication.

Munger notes that "When you get these lollapalooza effects you will almost always find four or five of these things working together."

What does that have to do with CrossFit?

Take a look at a CrossFit workout. Any will do. Doesn't look that bad, does it? They're short. They might tax the upper body heavily and then give the upper body a 'rest' while the lower body gets taxed. One example: 'Diane' 21-15-9 repetitions of deadlifts and handstand pushups. Deadlifts work the lower body, & handstand pushups mostly upper body, right? So, when a person does one she's basically resting the parts of the body required to do the other.

Only it doesn't work that way.

Here's a personal example. About two weeks into CrossFit, I came across a workout called 'Helen.' I had been running a lot, & 400 meter repeats were a major staple of my (pre-CrossFit) routine. I was very light weight (from all the running), and about the only lifting I'd been doing was weighted pullups. So this workout looked easy: 3 rounds of 400 meter run, 21 kettlebell swings, and 12 pullups. Simple. I thought I'd kill it.

I did the workout. My goal was 8:30. Thought it'd be easy. I did finish. But not in 8:30. It took nearly 10 minutes. And almost killed me. It felt like I stood bent over with my hands on my knees staring at that dumbbell (didn't have a kettlebell) for longer than 8:30 my last round.

I hadn't been that tired in years. Not since high school. Maybe ever. And certainly not from doing 400 meter repeats. I didn't need math--my legs could tell me--that there was a Mungeresque lollapalooza effect with that workout.

As far as I know Munger's never heard of CrossFit. The program is infinitely scalable, but Charlie's disdain for manual labor leads me to believe he's unlikely to try it. But I'm sure he'd be interested in seeing the physical example of his lollapalooza effect in it.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I can see why those of the left felt on the defensive after the programme begun to air. On screen appears one individual after another who is clearly physically able to work, but doesn’t. It’s hard not to feel irritated when encountering the feeling of entitlement combined with one of defeatism.
Paying people money to do nothing much is neither right nor sustainable. However, watching residents struggle to understand the terms of their rental agreement or how to avoid eviction, and seeing them turn to others for assistance who are almost as deficient in understanding as they are, it is made obvious that these people need more help as well as less help.

Without intense support and advice, without community workers to bring help right into the home, telling people to stand on their own two feet is just rhetoric designed to make the person using it feel comfortable. The challenge for the Right is that independence doesn’t begin automatically when dependence ends.

- Daniel Finkelstein on the new TV series Benefits Street

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

I made myself a promise this year to make it a priority to re-read good books before picking up any unread ones. I couldn't find a better place to start than The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
Ok, I was bs-ing in the last two sentences... resolutions are meant to be broken but the real reason was I miss Taleb's writings. It's so refreshing to read him that it has kind of become my quasi-meditation. Besides being wise; Taleb has this blunt sense of humor which makes him special. Here's an excerpt from Black Swan:

Which brings us to the Black Swan problem in its original form. Imagine someone of authority and rank, operating in a place where rank matters— say, a government agency or a large corporation. He could be a verbose political commentator on Fox News stuck in front of you at the health club (impossible to avoid looking at the screen), the chairman of a company discussing the “bright future ahead,” a Platonic medical doctor who has categorically ruled out the utility of mother’s milk (because he did not see anything special in it), or a Harvard Business School professor who does not laugh at your jokes. He takes what he knows a little too seriously. Say that a prankster surprises him one day by surreptitiously sliding a thin feather up his nose during a moment of relaxation. How would his dignified pompousness fare after the surprise? Contrast his authoritative demeanor with the shock of being hit by something totally unexpected that he does not understand . For a brief moment, before he regains his bearings, you will see disarray in his face.

I confess having developed an incorrigible taste for this kind of prank during my first sleepaway summer camp. Introduced into the nostril of a sleeping camper, a feather would induce sudden panic. I spent part of my childhood practicing variations on the prank: in place of a thin feather you can roll the corner of a tissue to make it long and narrow. I got some practice on my younger brother. An equally effective prank would be to drop an ice cube down someone’s collar when he expects it least, say during an official dinner. I had to stop these pranks as I got deeper into adulthood, of course, but I am often involuntarily hit with such an image when bored out of my wits in meetings with serious-looking businesspersons (dark suits and standardized minds) theorizing, explaining things, or talking about random events with plenty of “because” in their conversation. I zoom in on one of them and imagine the ice cube sliding down his back— it would be less fashionable, though certainly more spectacular, if you put a living mouse there, particularly if the person is ticklish and is wearing a tie, which would block the rodent’s normal route of exit.

Here's Taleb's new year wish - so simple but yet so important:

Taleb highly recommends the probability book - Modelling Extremal Events (might help to avoid the sucker problem).

Have a great weekend and keep smiling :)

Quote of the Day

Where there is no bread, there is no law; where there is no law, there is no bread.

- Rabbi Elizar Ben Azariah,  The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth by Benjamin Friedman

Friday, January 17, 2014

Can We Please Stop Already With The Tributes To Henry Kissinger?

Hitchens spent so much of his precious time exposing this demon called Henry Kissinger (his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger is a good place to start ) and now Gray J. Bass in his new book The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide talks about how Kissinger was the cheerleader for the 1971 genocide in Bengal:

Of all the incidents in Kissinger’s dark past, one of the least defensible must be his and President Richard Nixon’s staunch support of Pakistan’s military dictatorship while it carried out a bloody crackdown on its restive Bengali population in 1971. As Nixon's national security adviser, Kissinger stood behind Pakistan—a Cold War ally that prized its close military and diplomatic relationship with the United States—even as it swept away the results of a democratic election, killed horrific numbers of Bengalis and targeted the Hindu minority among Bengalis. He reserved his vitriol for India. And he trashed the career of Archer Blood, the brave U.S. consul general in Dhaka who, while witnessing and documenting the onslaught against the Bengalis, dissented from the White House’s pro-Pakistan policy. Here is a case where you’d think that even Kissinger’s most ardent defenders might settle for an embarrassed silence.

Blackwill sidesteps my book’s abundant evidence of Oval Office passion and bigotry only by raising the non-issue of profanity, pretending that I am “curiously offended that conversations in the Oval Office are often not the stuff of a church social.” In fact, the candid quotes from Nixon and Kissinger are salient because they are cruel, racist or reckless, not because they are PG-13. (I even point out that Kissinger didn’t swear much, tending toward “balderdash” or “poppycock.”) Indeed, some of Nixon’s harshest utterances about Indians use perfectly printable language: “I don’t know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do.” Kissinger joked about the massacre of Bengali Hindus, and, his voice dripping with contempt, sneered at Americans who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis.

This demon is 90 years old now and it will be shame on humanity if he dies without being shamed.


The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction

Kavaya Ashoka took me on a nostalgic ride today morning (via Q3D):

Unlike Bollywood’s avaricious national reach, the somewhat humbler linguistic ambitions of Tamil cinema dictated that it was usually about Tamilians, usually living in Tamil Nadu. Films therefore offered a peculiarly intimate window onto our lives. Although my own Tamil was poor — English having long usurped its place as my primary language — I could easily grasp the gist of the dialogue of my grandmother’s preferred brand of family melodrama. But their proximity to family life (ours and, I thought, everyone else’s) meant that they offered nothing new — they revolved endlessly around love, marriage, and familial duty, inevitably ending in dramatic monologues, tears, and death, which never came quickly enough. What fascinated were the rapid and logic-defying dress and scene changes during songs, where a dhavani-wearing peasant girl could be delivered from the tedium of tending water buffalo by a seamless camera cut, instantaneously depositing her into the perfectly reasonable confines of a blood-red cocktail dress as she sashayed down a London street. Movies seemed to capture both the provincial grip of our city of three million as well as our equally provincial ambitions to leave it.

Tamil thrillers and horror films, on the other hand, were riveting, their uncanniness­ only compounded by the fact that I couldn’t fully understand their more intricate plotlines. One film in particular comes hurtling back from the otherwise hazy cloud of cinematic childhood memory. In the 1979 Rajinikanth film Dharma Yuddham, the primary moral lessons of a son’s filial revenge for the murder of his parents washed over me with little effect. What grabbed me by the throat was Rajini’s gruesome discovery of glass jars filled with eyeballs in the villain’s refrigerator; the man who had killed his parents was also involved in the illicit trade of pilfered body parts. Rajini’s realization that what the villain had been referring to as his “black roses” were actually human eyeballs was rendered all the more unnerving because of their strangely captivating English moniker. It was naturally this that stuck in the mind of the transfixed nine-year-old, and of course that Tamil villains often spoke English, had mysterious names like “Robert,” smoked large pipes, and haughtily commanded their underlings to fetch them large measures of Scotch.

And this is so true and I think I am still the same:

Chakravarthy was also deeply invested in making the “popular” — what was read by auto drivers and tea stall owners — accessible to a broader audience. She wanted to introduce non-Tamil speakers to this kind of Tamil writing and give them a glimpse of the cultural universe of Tamilians, an act simultaneously demystifying and enchanting. She made some choices early on, deciding that food and familial relations, what she considered to be two vital aspects of Tamil culture, would not be translated. “I was very staunch that I will not translate idlis into rice cakes or dosa into rice pancakes, you know?” she told me in an interview. “Or upma into porridge. I have grown up reading Enid Blyton and Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I never knew what a croissant or a scone was! And it didn’t matter to me!”

Quote of the Day

My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Greatest Oxymorons...

Howard Marks in his book The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor had a great insight (in parenthesis) which made me smile:

Conventional wisdom (one of the greatest oxymorons)

Privacy Tools - How to Safely Browse the Web

Julia Angwin's new book Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance coming out on February 25th and here are some of her privacy tips:
    • I installed “HTTPS Everywhere,” created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. This tool forces your Web browser to use encrypted Internet connections to any website that will allow it. This prevents hackers – and the National Security Agency – from eavesdropping on your Internet connections.
    • I also installed Disconnect, a program created by former Google engineer Brian Kennish, which blocks advertisers and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, from tracking which websites you visit.
    • And finally I set my default search engine to be DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t store any of the information that is automatically transmitted by your computer — the IP address and other digital footprints — so DuckDuckGo has no way to link your search queries to you. That means DuckDuckGo won’t auto-complete your search queries based on your previous searches or based on your physical location, as Google does. So you’ll have to be a little smarter about your searches, and remember to bookmark the pages that you visit often, to save time.
    • After browsing with my ungainly setup for nearly a year, I found a Web browser that had all the features I wanted built in — called WhiteHat Aviator. It has built-in HTTPS Everywhere, it doesn’t retain or sell your online activity, and it uses Disconnect to block trackers from advertisers and social media companies. Its default search engine is DuckDuckGo.
    • It’s built by a computer security firm called WhiteHat Security, but it hasn’t been audited by any computer security experts yet, as far as I can tell. So use it at your own risk (and currently you can only use it on the Mac OSX operating system). But I’ve been using it for a few months, and after some bugginess in the beginning, I’ve started to enjoy the unusual feeling of having privacy as a default setting.

    Quote of the Day

    • When one speaks of increasing power, machinery, and industry there comes up a picture of a cold, metallic sort of world in which great factories will drive away the trees, the flowers, the birds, and the green fields. And that then we shall have a world composed of metal machines and human machines. With all of that I do not agree. I think that unless we know more about machines and their use, unless we better understand the mechanical portion of life, we cannot have the time to enjoy the trees, and the birds, and the flowers, and the green fields.
    • Power and machinery, money and goods, are useful only as they set us free to live. They are but means to an end. For instance, I do not consider the machines which bear my name simply as machines. If that was all there was to it I would do something else. I take them as concrete evidence of the working out of a theory of business, which I hope is something more than a theory of business–a theory that looks toward making this world a better place in which to live…
    • The natural thing to do is to work–to recognize that prosperity and happiness can be obtained only through honest effort. Human ills flow largely from attempting to escape from this natural course. I have no suggestion which goes beyond accepting in its fullest this principle of nature. I take it for granted that we must work. All that we have done comes as the result of a certain insistence that since we must work it is better to work intelligently and forehandedly; that the better we do our work the better off we shall be. All of which I conceive to be merely elemental common sense.

      - Henry Ford, My Life and Work

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    N N Taleb's Probability Moocs

    N N Taleb's Probability Moocs - Youtube channel.

    6 Steps to Better Memory, Verbal Reasoning and Improved Concentration

    The six steps to mindfulness:
    1. sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered,
    2. distinguishing between naturally arising thoughts and elaborated thinking,
    3. minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present,
    4. using the breath as an anchor for attention during meditation,
    5. repeatedly counting up to 21 consecutive exhalations, and
    6. allowing the mind to rest naturally rather than trying to suppress the occurrence of thoughts.

    Quote of the Day

    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

    According Animals Dignity

    Long past due and most important column of the year by Frank Bruni; who states that its about time we moved from the phrase “animal welfare” to "animal dignity":

    In the 2011 book “Dog Sense,” which was also grounded in research, not sentiment, and in the idea that pets have inner lives more complicated than we imagine. “Dog Sense” was published just two years after the huge best seller “Inside of a Dog,” by the psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz, which pivoted on the same notion.

    It was “Inside of a Dog” in particular that caught my friend Kerry Lauerman’s attention, cluing him in to a quickly shifting human perspective on animals.
    “There’s this growing obsession with animal cognition,” he said. Referring specifically to pets, he added: “We don’t want animals just for comfort. We really want to know them.” He mentioned another widely emailed story in The Times, from October, by a neuroeconomics professor who was doing M.R.I. scans of dogs’ brains and finding suggestions of emotions like ours. Its telling headline: “Dogs Are People, Too.”

    Lauerman wasn’t merely musing. He was explaining the rationale for a new website, The Dodo, that’s dedicated to animal news and features and made its debut this week. He’s its chief executive officer and editor in chief, and came to it from the influential online publication Salon, where he was the editor in chief from late 2010 to mid-2013.

    One of The Dodo’s principal financial backers is Ken Lerer, the current chairman of BuzzFeed and one of the founders of the Huffington Post. His daughter, Izzie Lerer, created and developed the site with Lauerman. Additionally, she’s finishing up her doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University, where her research focuses on the evolving compact between people and animals.

    The Dodo’s pedigree speaks to a broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase “animal welfare.” An era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us. You see signs everywhere.

    A story in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported a sharp rise over the last few years in the fraction of American dog and cat owners with provisions in their wills for their pets. Nearly one in every 10 have made such arrangements.