Showing posts from October, 2013

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Modorn then dig insidis bar
Hens hjerte stonne.
Then man then dig vedsidis gar
Aer morgun gonne.

Cowen falls for the illusion of the chess-playing Turk

He writes, in reference to chess-playing programs:

"That gap--between our perception of superior human intellect and its actual reality--is the sobering lesson of the programs."

Cowen seems to forget how these "superior" chess-playing programs came into being. They were, of course, built by human beings. When a grandmaster is "shredded" by a computer program, he is really being defeated by a team of programmers and chess experts who have a calculation machine at their disposal. Just because they don't literally sit inside the machine, as a human being did inside the chess-playing Turk, does not mean that the machine has somehow mysteriously "become intelligent," any more than a rabbit trap is intelligent because it "knows" how to catch a rabbit. Machines can be "intelligent" only in that they can be "intelligently built."

What Is This?

It is a translation of a foreign language version of a song you know. Can you guess the original?

The sun is about to set
The children run and play
Smiling faces
And I am here
This is how it is with my tears

With the wealth
To buy what I want
Except simple joy
So I am here
This is how it is with my tears

Average Is Over: Service jobs

Working my way back through my notes on Cowen's book, I see he does have this passage acknowledging the importance of service jobs in the future:

"As workers are displaced by smart machines and manufacturing and other areas, more individuals will be employed as personal trainers, valets, private tutors, drivers, babysitters, interior designers, carpenters, and other forms of direct personal services." (p. 32)

I have worked on an assembly line, and I have worked in a few of the jobs in the list above. In general, the personal service jobs are a lot better. (Having a boss who is a real jerk can change that any quality, however.) I'm not sure why people bemoan this shift.

Moral relativism trickery

"Note that much the same could be said [as was said regarding productivity] regarding my numerous references to the words smart and intelligent and conscientious and talented. Sure, these are good qualities overall, but we don't always need to price them above all other human qualities. How we value them does have a moral implication, but such moral judgments can be left each and everyone of us to make." -- Tyler Cowen, Average Is Over, p. 26

Isn't funny how if we demand that social rewards for cleverness must not enter the realm of public morality, people like Cowen will come out ahead? I'm pretty sure that he does not take a similar laissez faire attitude towards rewards going to the ability to thrash people and take their stuff. ("Hey, it should just be a matter of private judgment what you think of that!")

I am not saying getting ahead by being smart and getting ahead by being violent are the same thing. I am saying that I bet Cowen is very choosy …

When People Who Don't Understand Economics Talk About Supply and Demand...

it's maddening, isn't it?

For instance: "Mr. Yergin denigrated those warning of future imbalance between oil supply and demand as having no credibility and reassured all that to the contrary..."

Well, anyone who talks about an in balance between "supply and demand" should be denigrated, Because supply and demand our curves, or schedules, and by definition cannot be "imbalanced."

Nor does shifting the talk to "quantity supplied" and "quantity demanded" save it from being bladder. Those quantities are never in balance excepted the equilibrium price, and whatever the supply and demand conditions, they are in balance at the equilibrium price.

What the authors ought to have contended is that they see the price of oil rising in the future, but that does not sound as scary as an "oil supply crisis." And they would have a tough time making their case that international central planning of energy production is necessary if al…

Golf balls and a priori knowledge

If a golf ball's dimples are made up of pentagons and hexagons, no matter how many dimples the ball has, twelve of them will be pentagons.

Danger Lurks in Park Slope

My wife was a little worried about my daughter.

"She's got to walk eight blocks alone, in the dark! That's dangerous."

"Where is she?" I asked.

"Park Slope."

"That is dangerous: at any moment, she could be co-opted into an anti-fracking demonstration, or enlisted in an underground raw-milk co-op!"

America: A Secular Nation?

No way. Watch the beginning of a World Series game, and look at the reverential look all of the players feel obliged to adopt when the national anthem is played. Imagine the reaction if one of them refused to stand for this hymn.

America is a religious nation, whose religion is worshipping itself and its own exceptionalism.

It's that time of year again

Like every October, the cobwebs start to build up on my neighbors houses, and I have to run around the neighborhood removing them to clean up.

Another killing…

Another dumb comment from a neighbor.

A guy killed a woman, his girlfriend, I think. A reporter interviews his neighbor:

"I've lived next-door to him for five years, but I never saw anything like this before."

So you weren't witnessing him knock off a girlfriend every few months, and failing to report it? That's good.

Icy in da Poconos

My car windshield at 8 AM.

Modern physics is idealist

"after all, what could be more mysterious, or could be more awe– inspiring, than to find that the structure of the physical world is intimately tied to the deep mathematical concepts, concepts which were developed out of considerations rooted only in logic and the beauty of form?" -- Physics Nobel prize winner Chen Ning Yang

The world is a world of ideas.

Design genius

What, where these guys stoned?

"Yo, dude, I got it: We'll make the heater handle out of metal, and put it, like, right in front of the heating coils. That way when they go to pick up the heater, it will warm their hands extra!"

Of course, once the heater has been on for a few minutes, the handle is totally unusable without oven mitts on.

Interesting Cowen factoid II

"According to the Air Force, keeping an unmanned predator drone in the air for twenty-four hours requires about 168 workers laboring in the background." -- Average Is Over, p. 20

Interesting Cowen factoid

"Today’s iPhone would have been the most powerful computer in the world as recently as 1985." -- Average Is Over, p. 4

Some evidence.

Home Depot pricing is somewhat odd

My conversation recently at Home Depot:

Me: How much does this solar panel installation cost?

Home Depot rep: That all depends on your house and its location.

Me: Well, what is the average cost?

Home Depot rep: There is no average.

Is what he was telling me is that the prices are in a Cauchy distribution?

Pope Francis contra ideology

"The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

I really like this new pope.

(Hat tip Dreher.)

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in Mississippi

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in Mississippi

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, simplistically put, that things are uncertain. "Things" is important here: in physics, things are only things when they or their properties have been observed, in particular, their measurements; else they are at best irrelevant. To be said to exist, to contribute to the physicist's view of reality, they must be observable, and unobserved observables are merely extrapolations from observed observables. Furthermore, observation of a thing, the only source of its claim to reality, interacts with the thing observed, changing its properties and thus at once falsifying the results of observation. (Entanglement has since replaced direct disturbance in accounting for uncertainty in observation.)

In 1962, the Federal Government, in its methodical campaign to desegregate the South one institution at a time, enlisted a young black man, James Meredith, who had won in court th…

Konig on Fama versus Schiller

Here. Very much worth reading.

To be reviewed and to review, in turn...

Isn't that what Aristotle said constitutes the excellence of the citizen? Well, something like that.

In any case, here is my review of The Barbarous Years.

Cooking for real people: Tonight's sauce is tomorrow's soup

At least potentially.

I made pork with salsa verde. (I am not going to give you a recipe for salsa verde, which you can easily find on the web, but mine included tomatillos, roasted garlic, jalapenos, poblanos, cilantro, cumin, and chicken stock.)

Now, I was slow cooking the pork in the sauce, and so I wanted enough to cover the pork loin. We ate the pork in tortillas, meaning no way we were going to use all that sauce, or we would've been drowning our tortillas. What to do with the extra sauce?

Make a soup out of it! The next night I added more chicken stock to the remaining sauce, and then put in hominy, beans, mixed vegetables, and I shredded the remaining pork and threw that in as well. But the list of what you might add to make your soup is only limited by your imagination, and the dictates of good taste.

The principle is general: have extra sauce? Consider whether it would make a good base for a soup.

Murphy on government roads


A huge problem with government-provided roads is how they do not have to account for the costs they push on to their customers.

When I worked at Stew Leonard's, the company was constantly expanding and rearranging the Norwalk store where I worked. But they rarely inconvenienced the customers to do this: They would pay the workers time-and-a-half or perhaps double-time to work from store close at 11 PM until store open at 7 AM. They were willing to do this because the cost in lost business due to inconveniencing the customers would have been greater than the increase in labor costs due to working at night. The customers, after all, had somewhere else to go.

But when it comes to government roads, this is not true. So the government schedules the work when labor is cheap, during the day. The "customers" who windup stuck in a two-hour traffic jam do not have the choice of going to another road vendor with their custom.

Of course, there is some accountability: If you ar…

Life Hacks = ?

Did you ever see the "Life Hacks" from TED Talks? There are some interesting ideas on offer: I just picked up a good tip on cleaning one's blender.

But the title is pretty amusing. The kind of tips offered are essentially the same as those found in the Hints from Heloise column in your old hometown newspaper, you know, the thing your mom used to read. But that was so... square. However, once we call it "hacking," then it sounds like something cool Neo would do in the Matrix, and then it's A-OK to read about using vinegar to remove stains and whatnot.

The reviews are coming down like a blizzard now!

Here is another.

I found this by accident, while Googling for something else.


Raquel Welch is 73. I'm 71. She looks so much better than I do.

Chinese anti-rationalism

From the Shoo King:

"Follow the course of the mean, and do not, by assuming to be intelligent, throw old statutes into confusion."

"Measures of government must be varied according to the manners of the time."

"Virtue has no invariable pattern -- a supreme regard to what is good will provide the necessary model."
Location:Milford,United States

The mysteriously stable leaf pile…

Remains in place, after a week in which there were 25 mile-per-hour winds:

The mysterious hooded figures who are often seen in the forbidden dog park refused to comment on this situation.

Fama and Schiller in brief

Notes from a discussion with a student today, who is doing a senior project in this area:

In "normal market" times the market is very efficient. (But of course not perfectly so.) Fama holds.

Out in the tails, panic and euphoria setting. Paradigms are shifting, and people follow the herd. We see fat-tailed distributions, and in this region Schiller holds.


To all possible names have the abbreviation for a chemical elements in them, or did some people have to get turned down for a role in Breaking Bad because their name didn't have an element in it?

Whitehead refutes Becker-Stigler

"We habitually observe by the method of difference. Sometimes we see an elephant, and sometimes we do not. The result is that an elephant, when present, is noticed." -- Process and Reality, p. 7

Just so. If preferences were not something that changed, we would not even have a word for them.

Whitehead on speculative philosophy

"Speculative Philosophy is the endeavour to form a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted." -- Process and Reality, p. 5

Faced with this standard, materialism is obviously a complete failure. When faced with their total inability to integrate conscious experience into their metaphysics, materialists either simply punt and say, "One day we'll get to that," or resort to the nonsensical move of declaring consciousness some sort of illusion.

But the reality of this empirical failure will not move most materialists: materialism is a religious faith, and will be held by them come what may.

Racism paranoia: I know I link to Language Log...

but this silliness is really worth highlighting. Making a joke about Apple employing child labor is not racist!

Racism is real, and hasn't vanished. I once had an Englishman tell me to my face that "The Irish are stupid," before, in hindsight, he processed my last name, and tried desperately to suck his words back into his mouth.

But a brittleness that sounds alarms at every possible whiff of recognizing the reality of race is not the answer. To get past racism, we have to be able to laugh at it. I am reminded of sitting at a bar in Brooklyn. My friend who was tending bar said, "You guys are okay if I go out for a smoke?"

I replied, "That would be excellent: 'Cause I was thinking about running out without paying you, and that would be my chance."

The black guy sitting next to me, who also knew the bartender, looked at me and shook his head, and said, "Don't even try it, 'cause I can run faster than you with a plasma-screen TV on my ba…

I am viewed...

"Worst statistical reasoning by a sports writer" award nominee: Israel Gutierrez

Here: "before last season, [Amar'e] Stoudemire hadn't had two straight seasons in which he missed a large chunk of games. So odds are it won't be three straight."

Well, if missing many games last season and missing many games this season were completely independent events, this would be an example of the gambler's fallacy: "I got dealt several bad hands in a row, so I'm due!"

But in fact, Gutierrez's reasoning is even worse than that, since, of course, one's physical state this year is not independent of one's physical state last year. In particular, injuries tend to linger, and to raise the chances of new injuries (from favoring a previously injured joint and so on). To take an extreme case, imagine hearing the following:

"Jones had never missed a game before last season. However, after his legs were amputated, he missed 50 straight games. So odds are that won't happen again."

Of course, Stoudemire didn't have hi…

Their finest hour: Churchill was wrong

He famously said, during the Battle of Britain: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"

But it wasn't. It was a fine hour indeed, but the finest hour of the British Empire was the outlawing of the slave trade, especially when you consider that just two years prior to the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade of 1807, the British had won the Battle of Trafalgar, and so had nearly complete command of the seas. Therefore, they were in a position to control the slave trade and reap enormous profits from it. Instead, they banned it, and devote naval resources for five decades to capturing slaving ships and freeing their cargo.

Onion Talks: What Is the Biggest Rock?

100% Primes--While U Wait

OK, let's use the magic formula f(x) = 2x+1 to make primes:

(1) 2 is prime.
(2) 2·2+1 = 5 is prime.
(3) 2·5+1 = 11 is prime.
(4) 2·11+1 = 23 is prime--we're on a roll!
(5) 2·23+1 = 47 is prime!
(6) 2·47+1 = 95 ooops.

This gives 2 an index of 5; also, it gives 5 an index of 4, 11 an index of 3, 23 an index of 2, and 47 an index of 1.

Here's the head of the list of indices of 1, 2, ... 05204010003010001010002...

I have no idea of its properties, but they must be tricky, since their formulation must include formulating primality. Fully characterizing this sequence I should characterize as a problem of very difficult character. Have at it, my faithful legions!

Note that this protocol for framing numerical investigations can be specified for any f(x) and any propositional schema (here, "is prime").

Frame on!

Conversation with Siri

Gene: Call Staubitz meat market.
Siri: I don't have a number for Stoddards meat market.
Gene: No, Staubitz meat market on Court Street.
Siri: I found five butchers near you. The closest is Staubitz Meats. Would you like to try them?
Gene: Yes, call them.
Siri: Which one would you like to call? Gene Callahan or Elijah Miller?
Gene: No, I'd like to call the butcher store.
Siri: I'm very sorry, but I don't have a phone number for Virgil Storr.
Gene: ,).;;$;:.?;:$@@)??@"!
Siri: I'm just trying to be helpful!

Average is over: Confusing cause and effect?

Following up my previous post on Cowen's book, I can report that far from questioning the conventional wisdom on the importance of pushing as many people into college as possible, Cowen appears to support it.

He notes that some wealthy parts of the country, such as Raleigh, San Francisco, and Stamford, have a high percentage of college graduates and are getting an influx of more of the same. He also recommends more education as an antidote to struggling areas' economic ailments. But if Detroit starts subsidizing college education for many more Detroit residents, what I would expect to see is:

1) The more ambitious beneficiaries of this program moving to Raleigh, San Francisco, and Stamford.

2) And the less ambitious beneficiaries stuck in Detroit with a few job prospects.

How this would help Detroit is beyond me.

A puzzle in the field of fallen leaf dynamics

There are a handful of leaves at her widely across my porch.

And then there is this:

Say what? Why is there this one big pile, when the rest of the porch looks like the first photo? Yes, the pile is near the railings, but there is plenty of room for leaves to blow right under the railings; and anyway, they are not trapped up against them.

Of course there is an explanation in terms of the character of the leaves in the dynamical interaction of the wind, the house, and the railings: I am not suggesting that a poltergeist is piling them there. But I bet it would take a skilled physicist an awful lot of work to figure out just what that explanation is.

Average is over: send everyone to college?

I haven't yet finished Cowen's book, but I have gotten over halfway, and searched the index, and here is something Cowen does not seem to address: if his analysis of our economic situation is accurate, and machines are increasingly replacing lower-skilled office workers, then the current push to get everyone into college is sorely mistaken. After all, for what sort of job does a college degree with average grades and no specialized STEM training qualify one? Generally speaking, a low-skill office job, or precisely the sort of jobs that are disappearing. Pushing more people into colleges is not going to magically make more of these jobs appear; instead, it will merely create more competition for the diminishing supply.

There is a category of job that requires intelligence, can be very fulfilling, and allows workers great autonomy and the opportunity to exercise creativity: high-skill manual-labor jobs. If the returns to capital are increasing, the people getting those returns …

The advantages of drying your clothes the natural way

Many of you persist in machine drying your clothes, despite the obvious ecological benefits of hang drying them. But perhaps you haven't considered this: have you thought of all the new species of spider you will encounter, most of which you never knew lived in your area, let alone in T-shirts and socks in your area?

Now are you convinced?

Average is over

I am reviewing Tyler Cowen's above-titled book. As usual, I will be posting some of my thoughts as I read the book on this blog.

And here is the first of them: I am far from being able to yet evaluate Cowen's thesis. But I can say this: Man-oh-man, this guy has mastered the art of writing a book for "the intelligent layperson." When I sat down to start reading tonight, my intention was to deal with the "chore" (because I am writing a review) of reading Cowen for 20 or 30 minutes, and then get back to reading my new mathematics book. It has now been two hours and I have not yet had any desire to put Cowen's book down.

Relativistic Body Sculpting

Let's say your feel your hips are too wide. There is a solution that doesn't involve any painful dieting:

When you move around, do so sideways, and at a high percentage of the speed of light. Your hips will look much more narrow.

How Does Jeremy Lin Survive the Rigors of the NBA...

when he "poisons" himself with grains every day?

"My diet consists of healthy carbs, proteins, veggies and fruits. For carbs I like to eat pasta, couscous, and rice. All the meats I eat have to be lean and healthy like fish, chicken, and steak."-- Jeremy Lin

What does Big (Data) Brother know about me?

I just checked. Some notes of interest:

1) He thought I was a Republican.

2) The income estimate for our house was wildly off.

3) My household is interested in everything (true).

Now I'm starting to get it

Bruce Caldwell presented a paper on Hayek at NYU last week. In a discussion following a question I asked Bruce, Israel Kirzner offered a view of the relationship of Mises and Hayek that, for me at least, was an important clarification of the understanding I had already gained (much of which was from Kirzner in the first place!).

Here is how I now understand an important aspect of the history of those two thinkers:

1937: Hayek publishes "Economics and Knowledge" and sends it to Mises, fearing he will be offended by it and break with Hayek. But Mises says he agrees with everything in the paper.

What was going on? According to Kirzner (as I understand him), a mutual misunderstanding:

1) Hayek, in noting the limited scope of the "pure logic of choice," believes he is pointing out the limits not just of neoclassical equilibrium theorizing but of Misesian economics as well: "praxeology" just doesn't take us very far, and must be supplemented with an empiric…

TED Talks: Tying your shoes wrong

I was watching some TED Talks yesterday, and I found one claiming that most of us tie our shoes wrong.

Hmm... Well, why not try it? To have a control group, I tied one shoe the familiar way and one the improved way. What happened?

1) The new way was definitely tricky: my muscle memory fought going around the laces the "wrong" way.

2) The experiment with tugging on the shoe laces to differentiate the strong knot from the weak knot did not work for me the way it did for him at all. Both loops stayed pretty much right where they were in either case.

3) After a few hours, one of my shoes was untied. It was the one with the improved knot.

I also note the speaker ignored an important point on path dependence, made, for instance, by Liebowitz and Margolis: The historically chosen way of doing things can't be judged inferior nearly because another way offer slightly greater efficiency. The gain in efficiency has to pay for the cost of switching. And switching here so we have so…

New Yorkers

If you don't go 5 feet off the sidewalk waiting for the light to change, you might lose a second getting across that street.

We sell you an empty can...

And your mind does the rest:

The Irish Invasion(s) of Canada

I had never heard about these before today, but, in fact, between 1866 and 1871, the Irish attacked Canada five times. No kidding!

The sky bully

TV producer Joss Whedon one said he was an atheist because he doesn't believe in "the sky bully." I mention this only because it is a typical atheist misunderstanding of theism. Of course, one can find people who say they believe in God and mean by that some old man up in the sky telling everyone what to do, just as one can find people who say they accept Darwin's theory and think it implies that fish grew legs because they wanted to get up out of the water and eat plants.

But let us look at what is sophisticated theist says about his encounter with the divine. Here is Dante:

"O abundant grace, where I presumed to fix my sight on the Eternal Light, so long, that my sight was wearied!
In its depths I saw in-gathered, and bound by Love into one volume, all things that are scattered through the universe, substance and accident and their relations, as if joined in such a manner that what I speak of is One simplicity of Light. I think I saw the universal form, of th…

Did you know?

At the time of his ascension, George the First was only 56th in line to the British throne?

The problem with the 55 people ahead of him was that they were all Catholic.

Judging a sys admin

I've always thought you could tell a lot about a system administrator by walking into his computer room and looking at the cables. If they are a tangled mess, and you can't tell which one runs to which device, then his code is probably the same way. If they are neat, orderly, clearly labeled and so on, then his code probably is as well.

Humanizing Siri

With iOS 7 Apple has taken a step to humanize Siri. Previously, she sounded mechanical. Now, she sounds whiny and obnoxious. And those certainly are common human traits.

Let's get our noodles straight about free speech

Did you know...

At the time New Englanders were staging their tax revolt in the 1770s, the average person living in England was taxed 26 shillings a year. The average New Englander was taxed one shilling per year.

You haven't seen the last of us!

"No, but the first of you turns my stomach":

"Unsub Results : GCALLAHAN@XYZ.COM has been unsubscribed and will not receive any more mail from Townhall Afternoon Daily"

Until, a few months from now, we slip you back on our mailing list.

Because, I swear, I have unsubscribed at least five times from Townhall, and every time I wind up starting to get mail again in six or twelve months.

The Failure of Reductionism

Interesting post from Ed Feser on this topic.

From the comments, "Crude" notes:

"One thing that has surprised me about the Nagel reviews is how his book marked an odd public turning point - the moment where, even as reviewers went on the attack against him, they near universally did so by way of quickly abandoning (or presenting themselves as having abandoned) the very philosophical schools of thought he was principally targeting. I think the two themes I've seen played out in response to Nagel - the immediate abandonment of reductionism, and the hasty erection of some of the most wishy-washy, content-lacking versions of materialism I've ever seen - have been more damning than Nagel's actual book in some ways."

Government Investment in STEM Education Too Low?

No, as Thoreau illustrates, community colleges could train plenty of meth lab workers: we don't need advanced degrees for to fill that need.