Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Green Technology

This is green "technology" I can get behind - practical, cost-effective, voluntary, and last but not least, plain cool.

Hat tip to Radley Balko at The Agitator.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I Write Like...

There is an interesting web site that claims to analyze a writing sample that you paste in, and tell which famous writer you write like, in terms of word choice and writing style. What algorithms they use, and how legitimate the whole thing is is anybody's guess, but I pasted ten samples from this blog, and seven of those were evaluated as David Foster Wallace. I admit without shame that I was not familiar with Wallace - something I am now determined to remedy - but from the Wikipedia page, here are some descriptions of him and his style that seem to match well:

  • Wallace's fiction is often concerned with irony
  • long multi-clause sentences
  • (humility alert!) able to ingest complex mathematics, logic and philosophy
  • incorporate jargon and vocabulary (sometimes invented) from a wide variety of fields
I wonder if I should be concerned that he hanged himself after a lifelong struggle with depression.

The other three samples I pasted in were likened to H.P. Lovecraft (cool!), James Joyce (blah!), and Dan Brown (heaven have mercy!).

On the other hand, as a control, I tested the following:
  • the first four paragraphs of this work by Hemingway, and the result was Neil Gaiman
  • the first four paragraphs of The Sensible Thing by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the result was Ray Bradbury
  • the first page or so of A Perfect Day for Bananafish by Salinger, and the result was... David Foster Wallace (seems I am in fine company!)
Thus, entertaining as this may be, I judge it a cheap play on pareidolia, not that much different from a horoscope or a psychic reading, although unlike the latter two, this could become something neat if it is fed more texts, and its parameters are refined. Have fun with it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reality Bites

A fool and his money are soon parted, the wisdom goes. That does apply to said fool's future earnings, for all those fools out there who have not gotten the memo. Example: this fool, or pair of fools - mother and daughter - who thought chose not to think, but rather believe that spending $200K that they did not have on a degree from a top-notch school (NYU) in... wait for it... religious and women's studies!... was a great investment, because the precious snowflake could not attend a cheaper school.

Now the snowflake is on the hook for $100K, which is all but impossible to discharge even in a bankruptcy, and - shocker! - feels like someone should have stopped her from being a moron. "It feels wrong to me." Fair enough - for a reasonable fee, and a release form from prosecution for battery, I am willing to beat (including physically, when necessary) into any future young people like Ms. Munna some common sense. That will necessarily include some insight like:

1) The fact that something sounds like a great idea does not make it such.
2) See 1) - When you pay for something, you may REALLY want to figure out what it is worth to you.
3) See 2) - When you commit to pay for something, there are no do-overs. Unless you are a government (like Greece). Or unless you can throw a big enough temper tantrum to get a bailout from... wait for it... the government!
4) See 3) - When you get relief, help, a bailout - that means someone else who was not as dumb as you conveniently claim to be right now has to pay for your mistakes. Where does that fit into the religious and women's empowerment concepts you learned, Ms. Munna? Somewhere in between Psalm 37:21 ("The wicked borrow and do not repay...") and Camille Paglia ("
“Capitalism is an art form, an Apollonian fabrication to rival nature. It is hypocritical for feminists and intellectuals to enjoy the pleasures and conveniences of capitalism while sneering at it. Everyone born into capitalism has incurred a debt to it. Give Caesar his due.”)?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A New Germany

Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for Europe - and I mean this as a geographical, not as a political term. Of course, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", but... there have been enough anecdotes lately like this one. Money quote: "Germans feel they have paid both their reparations and their dues, “and many times over,” said Ms. Stelzenmüller, especially in an uncertain time of globalization and financial crisis. “People want to be normal, in the sense that other people don’t come to us first and say, ‘You have to pay.’ And it doesn’t have much to do with political orientation. All of us are huddling with our backs against the storm.”

Germany is outgrowing its guilt complexes, and beginning to question how long, for bleep's sake, the reparations will last. Of course, the last time this kind of questions popped up the outcome was very ugly. It probably will be this time too. We are, of course, not talking German divisions marching left and right through Europe - this is kind of passé in these days. But European cities may still be smoldering, most prominently Athens - set ablaze by its own unhappy citizenry. This can of worms was kicked about 7 months down the road by the latest bailout given to Greece - Merkel caved in, and probably will have to surrender the proverbial pound of flesh at the ballot box soon enough. But to hope Greek politicians have all
en masse had road-to-Damascus moment recently is beyond naive. The only big question remaining, in my humblest opinion, is whether Greece (again), or someone else (Portugal?) will be the next to come to Brussels (read: Berlin) hat in hand.

This is not a train wreck in slow motion. It's Titanic meets iceberg in slow motion, with Germany in the role of Kate Winslet's Rose, who survives with the bulk of her wealth (the precious jewel) intact, but the love of Jack Dawson (most of the rest of Europe) turned ice-cold by the plunge into ice-cold Atlantic (economic reality).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Your Tax Money at Work

Stop the presses, newsflash, groundbreaking research unveiled: people are afraid of losing money, and it has something to do with their brains.

The scientific feat has been achieved by studying 2 (yes, that is indeed two) subjects - both female, both with a serious genetic defect - and comparing their behavior in a lab test with that of 12 (yes, that's twelve) other people.

You know, it does not matter that economists have suspected something like that since Harry Markowitz proposed the portfolio selection theory in 1952. It matters even less that statisticians have developed this weird concept of representative samples in order to deal with inference from anecdotal evidence. What does matter is that you can get a nice grant and career advancement opportunities by documenting quasi-research that shows support of a well-known fact on OPM (other people's money). Considerations such as, say, the subjects' incomes and wealth (actually, full financials - balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow ) - known to affect risk aversion - are just trifling, nitpicking details. Why should we correct for exogenous variables, if the "research" will create buzz anyway? Just read the damn paper, and clap, rubes. Oh, yeah, and write a check for a follow-up study - who knows, we may discover something even crazier - say, that people (probably because of their brains, but you never know) enjoy winning money...