Etc: Inequality, Gigerenzer, solstices, technology today, and Sir Abed

Five links that I read about recently that I figured you might enjoy reading too.

  1. “A decade ago, the writer Deborah Solomon asked Donald Trump what he thought of the idea that “all men are created equal.” “It’s not true,” Trump reportedly said. “Some people are born very smart. Some people are born not so smart. Some people are born very beautiful, and some people are not, so you can’t say they’re all created equal.” Trump acknowledged that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law but concluded that “All men are created equal” is “a very confusing phrase to a lot of people.” More than twenty per cent of Americans, according to a 2015 poll, agree: they believe that the statement “All men are created equal” is false.”
    ..
    ..
    The New Yorker on inequality. I learnt about luck egalitarianism by reading this article, but it is a good overview of the topic more generally.
    ..
    ..
  2. “There is a low-tech way design your portfolio. It’s simply called 1/N formula or equality heuristics. Simple divide your funds equally across funds. It sounds too simplistic for the complex world of finance, and unlikely to impress any investor from whom you are raising funds (unlikely to impress you if someone is asking for your money, saying 1/N is their portfolio allocation strategy). ”
    ..
    ..
    A nice profile from Founding Fuel of Gigerenzer’s work, ideas and productivity.
    ..
    ..
  3. “I’m informed, however, that this 20 minute error in the Hindu solar calendar is deliberate, and that this has been put in place for astrological reasons. Apparently, astrology follows a 26400 year cycle, and for that to bear out accurately, our solar calendar needs to have a 20 minute per year error! So for the last 1700 or so years, we have been using a calendar that is accurate for astrological calculations but not to seasons! Thankfully, the lunar calendar, which has been calibrated to the movement of stars, captures seasons more accurately!”
    ..
    ..
    The catchily titled Noenthuda blog explains more about Makar Sankranti and the summer solstice.
    ..
    ..
  4. “…few companies are pure “tech” companies seeking to disrupt the dominant cloud and mobile players; rather, they take their presence as an assumption, and seek to transform society in ways that were previously impossible when computing was a destination, not a given. That is exactly what happened with the automobile: its existence stopped being interesting in its own right, while the implications of its existence changed everything.”
    ..
    ..
    Contextualizing technology today, by Stratechery.
    ..
    ..
  5. “The idea is to give an extremely poor family an asset — say a cow or a goat or bees — that can increase its income over time. BRAC is hardly the first group to use this model; another prominent one is Heifer International. But BRAC combines the donation with a mix of services that has proved highly effective — including training and coaching on how to use the asset, cash grants to tide the family over while getting a new enterprise started, and help with health care and education.”
    ..
    ..
    As the title of the blog post says, a profile of the most influential poverty fighter you’ve never heard of. Education matters!

Tech: Links for 19th November, 2019

  1. “Altman had long wanted to start his own nuclear-energy company; instead, he had YC fund the best fission and fusion startups he could find. Then he personally invested in both companies and chaired their boards. Thousands of startups are devoted to social interaction, and fewer than twenty to fission and fusion, but, Altman said, “hard things are actually easier than easy things. Because people feel it’s interesting, they want to help. Another mobile app? You get an eye roll. A rocket company? Everyone wants to go to space.””
    ..
    ..
    Reading this paragraph in this New Yorker profile of Sam Altman lies behind the other four links today. But this particular article is so very fascinating in its own right, for a variety of reasons.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Cold fusion is nuclear fusion at room temperature and normal pressure. Nuclear fusion is the process by which many nuclei, the center of an atom, containing protons and neutrons, are forced to join together to form a heavier nucleus (singular of nuclei) and during that process, energy is released. Some scientists hope that this may be Earth’s future energy source, but most scientists do not agree.”
    ..
    ..
    The simplest article I could find on a topic I know very little about, even after having read about a dozen of them today: cold fusion. All but impossible is the consensus, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from being very excited about its prospects.
    ..
    ..
  3. A rare failure in terms of being clear about the topic – cold fusion –  from the usually reliable eli5 series from Reddit (Sam Altman is an investor, by the way)
    ..
    ..
  4. “­NASA is currently looking into developing small-scale fusion reactors for powering­ deep-space rockets. Fusion propulsion would boast an unlimited fuel supply (hydrogen), would be more efficient and would ultimately lead to faster rockets.”
    ..
    ..
    7 pages from How Stuff Works about the same topic, explaining in some detail how it might work.
    ..
    ..
  5. “There is one point on which all true believers in cold fusion agree: their results are not reproducible. To most scientists, this implies that cold fusion results are not believable, but true believers suggest that this unpredictability makes them more interesting!”
    ..
    ..
    Scientific American, in a useful, but somewhat dampening overview of the field.

 

All things considered, cold fusion is worth reading much more about – and I hope to be able to do more of that in the days to come.

EC101: Links for 19th September, 2019

  1. Are we all Japan now?
    ..
    ..
  2. A review of the Jalan comittee report.
    ..
    ..
  3. Eric Maskin writes an appreciation of Kenneth Arrow’s ouevre.
    ..
    ..
  4. A New Yorker profile of Stephanie Kelton.
    ..
    ..
  5. Bookmarked as want to read.

ROW: Links for 4th September, 2019

  1. “Culinarily, they are among the most homesick people I have ever met.”
    ..
    ..
    Guess who? The last paragraph I enjoyed thoroughly, by the way
    ..
    ..
  2. Sanjaya Baru on the (new?) geopolitics of Asia.
    ..
    ..
  3. speaking of which
    ..
    ..
  4. On aspirations.
    ..
    ..
  5. Would you recognize the queen if you happened to bump into her?

Tech: Links for 3rd September, 2019

  1. “But analog storage takes up a lot of room. So sending the bulk of human knowledge to space will require a lot of compression. To do this, Spivack tapped Bruce Ha, a scientist who developed a technique for engraving high-resolution, nano-scale images into nickel. Ha uses lasers to etch an image into glass and then deposits nickel, atom by atom, in a layer on top. The images in the resulting nickel film look holographic and can be viewed using a microscope capable of 1000x magnification—a technology that has been available for hundreds of years.”
    ..
    ..
    Tardigrades on the moon.
    ..
    ..
  2. For folks who ask how to go about learning R. Start here.
    ..
    ..
  3. As I have mentioned earlier, I have the app, Peak. I don’t know how much of an impact it has on my mental performance, but I enjoy the routine(s) and am slowly getting better at all the games. They celebrate their fifth anniversary today.
    ..
    ..
  4. “When he saw the gilded letters of the Trump hotel, he gave a gleeful chuckle. “Out of all the American Presidents, he is the only one whose speeches I can understand directly, without translation,” he remarked. “There are no big words or complicated grammar. Everything he says is reduced to the simplest possible formulation.””
    ..
    ..
    If I could have, I would have excerpted the entire article. An interview with Cixin Liu.
    ..
    ..
  5. Teachable.com – of course I would be interested, wouldn’t I?

Etc: Links for 12th July, 2019

  1. “Often failure is simply failure, and a setback is exactly what it seems. But sometimes the obstacle that has been placed in our path might provoke us to look around, and perhaps to discover that a better route was there all along.”
    ..
    ..
    Tim Harford on the Doris Day effect
    ..
    ..
  2. “If I have to be curt, they’re famous for being famous. Another way of understanding how a family (+ dogs+friends+assistants) has risen to unprecedented levels of fame and fortune is by the Principle of Cumulative Advantage. This principle is also known as the Matthew Effect, and refers to the phenomenon of those who already have an advantage acquiring more of it. This concept is applicable to both financial and social capital.”
    ..
    ..
    …and since the previous article mentioned it, Reshu Natani in Think Pragati on the Matthew Effect.
    ..
    ..
  3. “The last time I saw Bourdain was a few months ago, at a party in New York, for one of the books released by his imprint at the publishing house Ecco—of his many projects, his late-career role as a media rainmaker was one he assumed with an almost boyish delight. At the bar, where I’d just picked up my drink, he came up and clapped me on the shoulder. “Remember when you asked me if I was a feminist, and I was afraid to say yes?” he said, in that growling, companionable voice. “Write this down: I’m a fuckin’ feminist.”
    ..
    ..
    A lovely essay on the late Anthony Bourdain. Just in case you haven’t, do read this – the article that started it all.
    ..
    ..
  4. “5-MeO-DMT is produced in large amounts by Bufo alvarius, a rare species of toad commonly known as the Colorado river toad or the Sonoran desert toad. When preyed upon, the toad secretes a venom that repels predators by causing them to, in scientific terms, trip balls. Psychonauts discovered that you can milk the toads’ venom, dry it out, and smoke it. The substance’s close relative, DMT, is an active ingredient in the traditional shamanic brew known as ayahuasca, but what they say about smoking the toad is that it’s like riding a rocket to the same place of total ego death that ayahuasca takes you to by riverboat.”
    ..
    ..
    That, the excerpt above, is not what this article is about. It is about Mike Tyson. He, as the title says, smokes the toad.
    ..
    ..
  5. “There are many ways to achieve success and fulfillment that do not involve attending an elite college. Instead of encouraging people to pursue options well-matched to their abilities, however, we tell young people that their self-worth hinges entirely on the brand name on their college diploma. This creates a perverse incentive to do whatever it takes to get into their dream school, to amass tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and to select a major based not on the professional opportunities it will open to them but on the ease of the program’s academic requirements. Small wonder we now have a generation drowning in debt and struggling to meet the traditional benchmarks of adulthood.”
    ..
    ..
    A long, but very reasoned rant about education in America, and about how it isn’t quite as good as it is made out to be. Also, that rare article that distinguishes between education (teaching) and research.

Etc: Links for 5th July, 2019

  1. “…in the series, Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), a member of the Academy of Sciences, lives in nearly the same kind of squalor as a fireman in the Ukrainian town of Pripyat. In fact, Legasov would have lived in an entirely different kind of squalor than the fireman did.”
    ..
    ..
    This is one of many, of course, but that line above was particularly illuminating. A review of the excellent series, Chernobyl.
    ..
    ..
  2. “The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, and that will, with luck, be read by many people, there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.”
    ..
    ..
    Neal Stephenson (whose books are excellent, and uniformly so) on productivity.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Thanos, observing that there were too many people, decided to kill half of them. But this is curiously short-sighted for a man regarded by many as a policy prophet. Any exponential population growth process will soon replace the lost people: that is why exponential growth is such a headache in the first place. For example, if an economy’s resource footprint grows exponentially at a rate of 7 per cent, it doubles in just ten years — meaning that in less time than has elapsed since the first Iron Man movie, we could be back where we started.The only lasting solution is an economy that uses resources at a sustainable rate. Malthus’s qualms notwithstanding, contraception has been a very good start. The world population growth rate is steadily approaching a very sustainable-sounding zero.”
    ..
    ..
    Tim Harford analyzes Thanos like only an economist can.
    ..
    ..
  4. “Imagine you’re cooking a roast dinner for your family of four. You opt for beef with all the trimmings, safe in the knowledge that it’s a firm family favourite. But just as you’re about to serve up, your daughter announces she’s vegetarian, your partner texts to say they’re running late, and your son tells you he’s invited “a few” friends over for dinner too. Then, your dog runs off with the joint of beef while you’re desperately trying to work out how you are going to meet the needs of all these (quite frankly) very demanding and unruly individuals.”
    ..
    ..
    The BBC on the problem of dynamic resource allocation. The excerpt, by the way, has nothing to do with the rest of the article.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Because at the end of their pilgrimage, the weary are rewarded with two things: a footbath and a bowl of steaming noodles. The footbath is just a footbath, but the noodles are extraordinary. Su filindeu is—quasi-official designation here—the rarest pasta on the planet. The dish is made specifically for this occasion; its very existence revolves around this trek. So specialized and obscure and mind-bendingly intricate is it that only a few souls can make it. And only those who reach Lula will ever try it.”
    ..
    ..
    The rarest pasta on earth. Why wouldn’t you want to read!

Links for 27th May, 2019

  1. ” In today’s world, we’re typically writing contracts in natural language, or actually in something a little more precise: legalese. But what if we could write our contracts in computational language? Then they could always be as precise as we want them to be. But there’s something else: they can be executed automatically, and autonomously. Oh, as well as being verifiable, and simulatable, and so on.”
    ..
    ..
    Stephen Wolfram on computational languages, and what it might mean for all of us in the future. Can’t say I understood all of it right off the bat, to be honest – which is why I’ll be reading it again sometime later.
    ..
    ..
  2. “I was interested in the notion that you could take a busy place — an airport and a marketplace, you can call it kind of a mall, with hundreds of shops and all that comes with it — and cohabit it with a magical park, which is nature at its best, which is relaxing and serene, and is the escape from all of that busyness.Airports are not exactly relaxed places, and I thought, what would be better than to create a place of total serenity?

    We’ve planted thousands of trees and all kinds of other vegetation. And now, six months since we planted it all, it’s already a lush jungle.

    You walk through the trails, and you forget you’re in a city, and you forget you’re in an airport, and you forget you’re in a building. You’re just out there in nature and, in that sense, it’s completely magical.”
    ..
    ..
    Singapore’s Changi airport now has a seven storey waterfall apparently. Of course it does.
    ..
    ..

  3. “Econtwitter is wonderful. Yesterday, an undergraduate emailed me to ask for book recommendations about the overlap between economics and philosophy. I recommended:Amartya Sen The Idea of Justice
    Michael Sandel What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
    Agnar Sandmo Economics Evolving
    and
    D M Hausman and M S McPherson and D Satz Economic analysis, moral philosophy, and public policy
    Then I asked Twitter, and here is the resulting, much longer, list. I won’t editorialise about them, although some are not good undergraduate intros in my view. One striking thing is how few recent overviews there are, however (as @esamjones also pointed out on Twitter). Huge thanks to all who made suggestions. This is a fantastic collective list.”
    ..
    ..
    Whatever bookmarking method you use, add this to that resource. And as she mentions, #econtwitter, really is wonderful. Diane Coyle with a very important, very useful list. Undergrad resources for the intersection of economics and philosophy.
    ..
    ..
  4. “If you missed the Chinese mission, maybe it’s because you were focussed on the remarkably inexpensive spacecraft from SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization, which crash-landed into the moon on April 11th, soon after taking a selfie while hovering above the lunar surface. The crash was not the original plan, and SpaceIL has already announced its intention of going to the moon again. But maybe you weren’t paying attention to SpaceIL, either, because you were anticipating India’s Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, expected to take off later this year. Or you were waiting for Japan’s first lunar-lander-and-rover mission, scheduled to take place next year. Perhaps you’ve been distracted by the announcement, in January, on the night of the super blood wolf moon, that the European Space Agency plans to mine lunar ice by 2025. Or by Vice-President Mike Pence’s statement, in March, that the United States intends “to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.””
    ..
    ..
    The New Yorker explains how the moon is becoming a rather crowded place, and is likely to only get even more crowded in the years to come – and also explains why.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Santacreu and Peake compared research and development (R&D) efforts of the U.S. and China for the period 1999-2015. As of the most recent year, China’s R&D intensity, measured by R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, was 2.1% of GDP versus 2.8% for the U.S.However, China’s R&D intensity grew from less than 1% over the period studied, therefore increasing considerably faster than that of the U.S. “Because R&D intensity is a proxy for technological advancement, these data suggest that China is catching up to the U.S. in technology,” the authors wrote.”
    ..
    ..
    Ask yourself this: in about thirty years from now, are you more likely to see the world’s innovation hub be in China or America? This article points to the likely answer.

Links for 23rd May, 2019

  1. “Ec 1152 is an introduction to that kind of economics. There’s little discussion of supply and demand curves, of producer or consumer surplus, or other elementary concepts introduced in classes like Ec 10. There is no textbook, only a set of empirical papers. The material is relatively cutting-edge. Of the 12 papers students are required to read, 11 were released in 2010 or after. Half of the assigned papers were released in 2017 or 2018. Chetty co-authored a third of them.And while most economics courses at Harvard require Ec 10 as a prerequisite, Ec 1152 does not. Freshmen can take it as their first economics course.

    “I felt increasingly what we’re doing in our offices and our research is just totally detached from what we’re teaching in the intro classes,” Chetty says. “I think for many students, it’s like, ‘Why do I want to learn about this? What’s the point?’”
    ..
    ..
    Honestly, I am not really sure about this. My own take is that if anything, there is too much of an empirical bias in economics today, not too little. And this class seems to take that trend forward, which is… not great?
    ..
    ..

  2. “Economists think historians are teaching it. Historians think it is being done by economists. But in truth the study of economic history is almost absent from the university curriculum. Economic history has fallen through the cracks. And economics students across universities are suffering because of its absence.My contention is that our economic past should play a far more central role in the education of economists today. Because I think the study of economic history will make economists into better economists. My mission is to make academic and professional economists aware of the key problems associated with missing out this training from the education of new economists. And then, once the problem is fully acknowledged and understood, to present easy-to-implement pedagogical solutions.”
    ..
    ..
    This, on the other hand, I am all in favor of. Economic history needs to be taught. Forget needs to be taught, I need to learn more of it!
    ..
    ..
  3. “It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.””
    ..
    ..
    Speaking of economic history, Alex Tabarrok at MR serves us a timely reminder about its importance.
    ..
    ..
  4. “In democratic countries, we often talk about this concept called audience costs, which is, if you tell your public one thing and then you do another thing, your public is going to punish you for it. But leaders are not elected in China, so there’s a lot less popular-audience cost. And the regime prides itself on total control over the media and censors everything that it doesn’t like. So even if it, in reality, made important concessions to the U.S., it can simply hide that fact from the Chinese public. Of course, the educated public will find out about it, but so what? The vast majority of Chinese people will be almost completely ignorant of that fact, and that’s fine. So when the U.S. is negotiating with China it should not worry about things like that, because China prides itself on its total control over the media—and there’s a lot of documentation showing that they’re pretty successful in what they do.”
    ..
    ..
    The first time I heard the phrase audience costs, which alone is reason enough for sharing this article. But the rest of the excerpt speaks to how audience costs can be waved away – and that is scary!
    ..
    ..
  5. “When an American buys a chair from China for $50, it decreases net exports by $50, but it raises consumption by exactly the same amount. The two effects net out exactly. Unfortunately, the way economists decided to define GDP makes imports’ negative contribution to the equation highly visible but hides their positive contribution from view.”
    ..
    ..
    And in a neat way to circle back to the set of links today, please read this link in its entirety. Econ 101 matters!

Links for 8th May, 2019

  1. “The god question is not easy to answer conclusively because god’s existence is a matter of faith, not science. There is no mathematical proof. God is a construct of belief. The great Austrian-American mathematician Kurt Gödel once attempted to prove the existence of god. His ontological proof of god, by definition, is more axiomatic and derived from semantic logic than from real mathematics. It was not long before it was discredited and the axioms questioned. Undeterred, a group of mathematicians from around the world is using open-source documentation to formalise Gödel’s proof to a level where it can be proven by computer programs. We will wait.”
    ..
    ..
    Sachin Kalbag, a guy worth following on Twitter, writes about a near death experience he had some years ago, and asks questions about god, faith, belief and logic.
    ..
    ..
  2. “You guys are so angry and militant, you’re going to cause havoc,” he recalls being told, delivering his anecdote with a comic’s timing. “You are not getting any arms. You are not ready to fight. You are raaaaw,” he says, disintegrating into laughter. Instead of war, the 21-year-old studied economics, ending up at the University of East Anglia in England. “When all this fighting is over,” he was told, “there will be a country to run.”
    ..
    ..
    A short interview with Tito Mboweni – my only criticism is that it is too short, but then again, that’s the style of the Lunch with FT series. By the way, you might want to try Googling the series. Some extremely interesting interviews.
    ..
    ..
  3. “The first two factory acts, one in 1881 and the other in 1891, neglected to shorten working hours. When the 1890 Factory Commission gathered workers’ voices, both male and female workers overwhelmingly demanded a shorter working day. Doorpathee told the commission: ‘It will be better if the hours are shortened.’ The 1891 Factory Act declared Sunday a holiday, limited the work day to 11 hours for female workers and seven hours for child workers (aged between nine and 14). But it left out adult males from the ambit of a shorter work day, and men continued to work between 13 to 16 hours per day.”
    ..
    ..
    A truly lovely read about Bombay workers, their living conditions, and about the night schools that started in Bombay at that point of time.
    ..
    ..
  4. “In short, strange as it may seem, industrialisation of India is the soundest remedy for the agricultural problems of India. The cumulative effects of industrialisation, namely a lessening pressure (of surplus labour) and an increasing amount of capital and capital goods will forcibly create the economic necessity of enlarging the holding. Not only this, but industrialisation, by destroying the premium on land, will give rise to few occasions for its sub-division and fragmentation. Industrialisation is a natural and powerful remedy…”
    ..
    ..
    1918. Dr. Ambedkar wrote the essay from which this excerpt is taken in the year 1918. 101 years later, we still retain policies that keep people tethered to agriculture. Also worth reading is the rest of the article – and indeed, therefore the writings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. (Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)”
    ..
    ..
    Never be too confident of anything, least of all about whatever it is that you think you know, is my key takeaway from this article – but implementing this is easier said than done!