Yet Another GitHub Project Page Is Born

Studies in Rationalism.

Now that I've taken the time to figure out GitHub Pages, I realize this is what I've been waiting for.

The big thing is that this isn't just a way to put up web sites: it is a way to put up web sites for collaborative projects that can involve a multitude of contributors, and it can track and reconcile changes made by multiple people to shared documents.

Remembering the order of the CSS margin property

You give the style margins in the following order: top, right, bottom, left.

But I kept having trouble remembering this and had to keep looking it up. Until I thought of Charles Barkley. The order is what Charles would tell Kenny Smith about how the Warriors played against the Spurs:

"The Warriors played trbl, tonight, Kenny, just trbl."

Popular economic idiocy

Midsomer Murders is a kind of silly British crime show. For one thing, it is supposed to take place in an idyllic, rural English county. But this county seems to suffer about three murders per week, and nobody but nobody ever murders just a single person. But you know me… addicted to plots. And so sometimes I watch anyway.

The other day, the murder involved the local noble family, the residents of the village manor. One of them was going to buy the local pub, and then backed out.

The detective interviewing the pub owner was shocked at the agreed-upon price: "You were selling at well below market value!"

The implication is that, being the lords of the manor, members of the noble family had extra-market power to semi-coerce sales from the villagers. And then the discussion turns to the sale going south.

The pub owner complains, "When he backed out, we were devastated!"

For the writers, "market value" is apparently some abstract number, perhaps one declared by a government bureaucrat. It has nothing to do with any actual market, in which actual buyers would come forward and offer the market value for some piece of property, like this woman's pub. If her arm was being twisted into selling "below market value," she would be thrilled when that buyer backed out, since then she could receive the market value!

Psychiatric drugs and fragility

For those of you who haven't read Antifragile, Taleb's final book in his Incerto quartet, it is very much worth your time. It's central idea is simple: uncertainty and ups and downs are an essential part of life, not accidents to be corrected. But what's more, the attempt to eliminate them and make life all pleasant smoothness (like an automobile ride in a luxury car commercial) produces fragility. For my Austrian friends, you will like the fact that Taleb takes the business cycle as a paradigmatic case: by trying to smooth out all ups and downs in business activity, central banks produce huge crashes like 1929-1932 and 2007-2008. But this principle applies in many, many other domains of life as well. In fact, once you see it as a general principle, you start finding it everywhere.

This morning I was thinking about it in terms of psychiatric drugs. The idea behind these drugs is that no one should ever feel bad. Just look at the TV ads: once you get hooked on these drugs, every day will be mild, sunny, and filled with laughing children at a playground.

But of course coming to expect every day to be like that renders one extremely fragile. And when something does go wrong, and a thunderstorm rolls in and drives the kids from the swings... well, we get the countless suicides committed by people being treated with drugs that are supposed to make them permanently content. (My uncle was one of those people.)

How did this happen?

Yesterday I used Google translate to translate some Polish text.

Today I got asked to apply for a temporary job as a Polish-English translator for some legal documents.

That can't be a coincidence, can it? But if it's not a coincidence, how the heck did this translation company find out I was doing this? Does Google sell this information? It seems like that would freak people out.

UPDATE: I understand targeted ads, and have received them often. But in those cases, I understood Google to be doing something like promising, "We'll put your ad for X in front of people who have searched for X." But that doesn't offer the specific names and email addresses of people who have searched for X. If people are searching for hemorrhoid cream, the advertiser gets ads in front of them, but without knowing specifically who those people are. What I got was a personal email.

A Great Piece from Claes Ryn

Small Is Beautiful

"A rule then hit me: with the exception of, say, drug dealers, small companies and artisans tend to sell us healthy products, ones that seem naturally and spontaneously needed; larger ones -- including pharmaceutical giants -- are likely to be in the business of producing wholesale iatrogenics, taking our money, and then, to add insult to injury, hijacking the state thanks to their army of lobbyists. Further, anything that requires marketing appears to carry such side effects. You certainly need an advertising apparatus to convince people that Coke brings them 'happiness'..." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, p. 402

"Computers represent numbers as...

sequences of 0s and 1s."

It is amazing how many times I have heard the above nonsense. Folks, there are no 0s or 1s inside your computer: There are flows of electricity and magnetized plates. Humans interpret those electro-magnetic states as 0s or 1s. The only 0s or 1s your computer has are in the serial number written on the outside of the box, or on the surface of a microchip inside it, giving its model number!

Another web course

I've almost completed cutting my course materials for statistics and probability over to HTML stored in GitHub. Here is the course as it stands.

UPDATE: I had to move the site. The old way of serving pages proved to be buggy.

Can globalization be stopped?

I heard a student ask an economics professor the above recently.

His answer was, "No, of course not!"

The best way to get someone to passively accept the beating you are giving them is to get them to think it is inevitable.

The right question is, "HOW will globalization be stopped?"

The possible answers are:

1) The globalizing elite will be defeated politically.

2) We will suffer a global economic or ecological catastrophe.

Reference: See Babel, Tower of.

I know that the hypnotized never lie

If you've been hypnotized by a good persuasion campaign, you can be certain of this: whatever it is they want to make you believe, you will be quite certain that you came to believe it all on your own, and you will be convinced you have very good reasons for believing it. That's what makes it hypnosis, rather than just ordinary marketing.

The tell is how contrived those reasons turn out to be if they are examined closely: in fact, you are drawing on your clothes in green magic marker not to show solidarity with imprisoned environmentalists, but because you are hypnotized.