Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Links for Later

Why no GARCH in Basel III? 'Cause GARCH blew up, and now nobody knows what to use.

Passing or coming out? bi guys

Paul Krugman: Learned Helplessness in Macro, or Why Zombie Theories are Back

Bruce Sterling on Anna Chapman, web 2.0 user and alleged Russian spy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Warm Waves

<a href="">Summer Daydream by Warm Waves</a>
Download here

Aaah. I can feel my muscles relax.

(via Warren Ellis)

The Two Children Problem Reconsidered

People have threatened to punch me for bringing up the Monty Hall Problem at parties, despite the fact that the people I brought it up to were quants (who presumably enjoy such things), and despite the fact that I don't otherwise make people do party games. I feed them, I talk with them, but I don't make them play Pictionary, 'cause that's just mean.

In the mean time, here's another troublesome problem, the Two Children Problem, posed by Gary Foshee

Gary Foshee, a collector and designer of puzzles from Issaquah near Seattle walked to the lectern to present his talk. It consisted of the following three sentences: "I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability I have two boys?"
Now, the answer we arrive at might be any of the following: 1/2, 1/3, or 13/27, depending on the method used to arrive at the answer. But what actually determines the correct answer is why you told us about the boy being born on Tuesday.

So why does intuition seem to lead us so astray? Both the intuitive and the mathematically informed guesses are wrong. Are human brains just badly wired for computing probabilities?

Not so fast, says probabilist Yuval Peres of Microsoft Research. That naïve answer of 1/2? In real life, he says, that will usually be the most reasonable one.

Everything depends, he points out, on why I decided to tell you about the Tuesday-birthday-boy. If I specifically selected him because he was a boy born on Tuesday (and if I would have kept quiet had neither of my children qualified), then the 13/27 probability is correct. But if I randomly chose one of my two children to describe and then reported the child’s sex and birthday, and he just happened to be a boy born on Tuesday, then intuition prevails: The probability that the other child will be a boy will indeed be 1/2. The child’s sex and birthday are just information offered after the selection is made, which doesn’t affect the probability in the slightest.

...Peres says that we shouldn’t despair about our probabilistic intuition, as long as we apply it to familiar situations. The difficulty of these problems is rooted in their artificiality: In real life, we almost always know why the information was selected, whereas these problems have been devised to eliminate that knowledge. “The intuition develops,” he points out, “to handle situations that actually occur.”

Thomas Edison's To-Do List

When I was in third grade, I wrote a spectacular paper on Thomas Edison that got an A, becoming the foundation of much later scholarship, if I may say so. My father refers to this paper (and everything else I write) as "Thomas Edison and His Toads and Frogs", or occasionally as "Black Holes, Toads, Frogs, Thomas Edison, and What I Did for Summer Vacation". Thanks, Dad.

Below, you can see one of Mr. Edison's to-do lists for January 3rd, 1888. List items include "Deaf Apparatus", "Electrical Piano" and "Ink for Blind". The list goes on for a number of pages—I was
initially concerned that this was the list for the day, but another subsequent list appears in the same book for April of that year, so I assume he got through the several hundred inventions in about three months, a comparatively leisurely pace. This particular page is also notable for the legible handwriting, which declines as we move through the notebook; it's a relief that old Thomas Alva may have been a workaholic genius, but also had poor penmanship.

image from the Rutgers collection of Thomas Edison's papers
Click to embiggen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

RIP Tobias Wong

Designer and artist Tobias Wong hanged himself last month, possibly while sleepwalking. There was no suicide note, no sign of depression, rather an upswing in his career and personal life.

He was best known for his "paraconceptual" art pieces, like the silver cold pills:
Allan Chochinov, the editor in chief of Core 77, a design Web site, remembered the first time he met Mr. Wong. It was the late ’90s, and he was walking down Prince Street when he ran across the boyish designer standing next to a folding table selling capsules — the sort cold medicine comes in — filled with silver leaf.

“I picked one up and said, ‘So you eat these?’ He was like, ‘uh huh.’ ‘And it turns your poop silver?’ And he said, ‘yep.’ ” Mr. Chochinov recalled.
The New York Times article is fascinating.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Quote of the Day

On the point

What is the point. That is what must be borne in mind. Sometimes the point is really who wants what. Sometimes the point is what is right or kind. Sometimes the point is a momentum, a fact, a quality, a voice, an intimation, a thing said or unsaid. Sometimes it’s who’s at fault, or what will happen if you do not move at once. The point changes and goes out. You cannot be forever watching for the point, or you lose the simplest thing: being a major character in your own life.

—Renata Adler, “Brownstone”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Links for Later

GOALIE: an algorithm for determining time coordination patterns in biological systems.

Interview with Julian Assange. Very soft spoken gentleman.

Interview with witch house act,†‡†

Anosognostic, Part 2

Victor Niederhoffer is a very bright, very nice guy who blew up his hedge fund, twice. Here, he talks with Kathryn Schulz about error, and why one doesn't see one's own mistakes:
Niederhoffer's e-mails suggested a man already obsessed with wrongness. In them, he referenced the statistical concept of path dependence; shared a series of proverbs about the game of checkers (of 5,000 such proverbs, he hazarded, about 250 concerned error); meditated on the difference between Type One mistakes (excessive credulity) and Type Two mistakes (excessive skepticism) (he himself is much more prone to Type One, he says: "I'm tremendously gullible"); observed that "one should be careful of multitasking or multiromancing"; sent me the citations for hoodoo in the Oxford English Dictionary (a hoodoo is something or someone that brings bad luck); and noted that the harpooner in Moby Dick would have made a great interview subject for this series. Finally, he pointed out that the word error has no antonym. "In retrospect," he wrote, "I know much too much about errors and much too little about the opposite, whatever it is."
The best bits of the interview include the insight that he played squash too perfectly (and safely), while playing the market without enough safety, advice on avoiding "hoodoos" (people who will bring you bad luck sooner or later), and "taking out the canes":
When the public is most frightened, only the strong are left, and that's when the market is in the best possible hands. I call it taking out the canes. Whenever disaster strikes, the very sagacious wealthy people take their canes, and they hobble down from their stately mansions on Fifth Avenue, and they buy stocks to the extent of their bank balances, and then a week or two later, the market rises, they deposit the overplus in their accounts, invest it in blue-chip real estate, and retire back to their stately mansions. That's probably the best way of making money, to be a specialist in panics. Whenever there's panic hanging in the air, that's a great time to invest.


This five part series of interviews by Errol Morris deals with the fact that we believe we know more than we do, are self-deceptive, confabulate, and generally get things wrong. This set of articles could make a fine book all by themselves. Neuroscientists, biographers, Donald Rumsfeld and Woodrow Wilson make appearances, alongside a very confused bank robber:
Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight. What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise. The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest. There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money. Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving. “But I wore the juice,” he said. Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.
It's a phenomenon that affects both the fool and the genius. We don't notice when we're screwing up. The best answer I've heard for why this is the case is that if we were realistic about our knowledge and capabilities, we'd never do anything.

The Endless Game

Today, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will resume playing the longest match in the history of tennis, after reaching a score of 59-59 in the fifth set before nightfall yesterday.

John Isner of Tampa, Fla., and Nicolas Mahut of France were tied at 59-59 in the fifth set at Wimbledon after exactly 10 hours of action when play was suspended because of darkness Wednesday night. It is by far the longest match in terms of games or time in the century-plus history of tennis...The 23rd-seeded Isner and the 148th-ranked Mahut, who needed to qualify to get into the tournament, shared a court for 7 hours, 6 minutes in Wednesday’s fifth set alone, enough to break the full-match record of 6:33, set at the 2004 French Open. Never before in the history of Wimbledon, which first was contested in 1877, had any match — singles or doubles, men or women — lasted more than 112 games, a mark set in 1969. Isner and Mahut played more games than that in just the fifth set, and still did not determine a victor, although the American came close: He had four match points — four chances to end things by winning the next point — but Mahut saved each one.

(via tr)

Update: Isner wins 70-68 in the 5th, two days after the match began.

Update: check out this commentator

Best Headline of the Year

Friday, June 18, 2010

RIP Sebastian Horsley

It seems that the heroin finally caught up with Sebastian. Based on the comments of those who knew him (or just encountered him), it seems he was a very nice man who went to great lengths to make others believe that he was terrible.

Photo credit: Steve Forrest


For those of you who want to get me something for Christmas, may I suggest this preposterous piece of wine apparatus?
Someone broke into my car, stacked all of my CDs neatly in the driver seat and stole only $1.37 in nickles*. I am bemused.

*give or take $0.02

Update on Wikileaks

Greenwald interviews Lamo, notes some inconsistencies in the overall story.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Indiana Jones of Interior Decorating

For when you absolutely have to have that Indonesian temple roof, send one of these guys:
Keenen Ivory Wayans, Mr. Finton said, once told him, “One day we’re going to see you on one of those CNN things, blindfolded and saying, ‘I’m just here for the limestone.’ ”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oil Spill Humor

I'm surprised no one has resurrected this classic bit yet: "The Front Fell Off". Only marginally sillier than the real thing.

The National

Bloodbuzz Ohio

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Quotable DeLong on Appropriate Macro Policy

The only thing that you needed to know to understand the Principles of Animalism in Animal Farm was "four legs good, two legs bad"[1].

Similarly, the only thing you needed to know to understand the macroeconomic policy line of the Obama administration--or, rather, what the macroeconomic policy line should be--is "short-run deficit spending to speed short-term recovery, long-run budget balance to enable long-term growth."

That is the right economic policy for the country.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Where Fun Goes to Die

Those crazy kids down at the BRS alma mater University of Chicago have resurrected latin-named, R rated magazine Vita Exlocatur, featuring what used to be called artistic pictures of undergrads and friends. Hot nerd alert!

Ellsberg, Assange, Personal Democracy Forum

Saturday, June 12, 2010


The whole Wikileaks/Bradley Manning/Julian Assange imbroglio is reaching a state of high fluidity. Manning is under arrest, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is playing hide-and-seek with Pentagon assets, and may be in danger of "extreme sanctions" (or other John Le Carre-esque euphemisms), if Daniel "Pentagon Papers" is to be believed.

He's also trying to get his hands on the transcripts Adrian Lamo turned over to the feds, before the feds are able to prevent the release of a large number of leaked diplomatic cables.

Expect to see more in the headlines over the coming weeks, and in the meantime, have a look at this New Yorker profile of Assange, who seems to have had the kind of life where this week's troubles are par for the course. Hiding from cultists, safe houses in Reykjavik and motorcycling through Vietnam feature prominently.

I could swear I met him online in the 80's when he went by the handle Mendax...or maybe I should swear I've never heard of him.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Beta Pictoris is ready for it's closeup.
(via @dmonzel)

Andrei Tarkovsky's Polaroids

Bottlerocketscience has a fondness for the real-time quality of Polaroids, and this sampling of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky from a Russian language photoblog shows exactly what can be done in the medium. Lyrical, haunting, and still immediate decades later.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bonus Quote of the Day

Lawns are a form of television.

-Michael Pollan, Second Nature

Douglas Adams on Tail Risk

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.
(via Mark Thoma, via Paul Kedrosky, via Ezra Klein)

Prince Poppycock

The Coilhouse folks have taste, and they like Prince Poppycock (aka John Quale), therefore you and the rest of America will bow before the oncoming storm, as he performs on America's Got Talent. I can barely wait until the inevitable Poppycock/Gaga duet.

Perfume Gardens

Nice article about people formulating perfumes from their own gardens. Makes me want to grow a Chinese perfume tree and boil it up with some jojoba oil.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Jane Lynch vs. iPhone

Links for Later

Entoptic Forms: the way the embedded patterns of the visual nervous system inform paleolithic art.

Combing the countryside: expanding acceptance of racial types of Brazilian models.

Whatever, Dude: expanding acceptance of gays & lesbians among American men.

Barry Ritholtz takes down Art Laffer on the coming apocalypse over the Bush tax cuts sunset.

William Gibson's Book Expo Talk

The capital F Future "is gone":
Say it’s midway through the final year of the first decade of the 21st Century. Say that, last week, two things happened: scientists in China announced successful quantum teleportation over a distance of ten miles, while other scientists, in Maryland, announced the creation of an artificial, self-replicating genome. In this particular version of the 21st Century, which happens to be the one you’re living in, neither of these stories attracted a very great deal of attention.
Also worth reading for his explanation of his previous books, which are about, no surprise, the decades in which they were written.

Life on Titan?

Two new papers have come out, suggesing that there could be life on Titan that "breathes hydrogen, eats acetylene and excretes methylene". But, as Maggie Korth-Baker puts it on boingboing:

let's knock out one basic thing right off the bat: Nobody has discovered alien life. We have not found E.T. This is only a test of the emergency high-pitched happy squealing system.

That said, it probably wouldn't be remiss to clap your hands delightedly, like a little girl. As I said, nobody has found alien life, but they did find the sort of evidence that might suggest alien life is down there on the surface of Titan, waiting to be found. It's a little like walking up to a house and finding the front door open, and, inside, a T.V. stand that's missing a T.V. It's reasonable to assume the house might have been burglarized, but there are also other plausible explanations and you don't have enough evidence to know one way or the other.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Art of Dennis Hopper

Michaelangelo, Neuroanatomist

More evidence that Michaelangelo hid detailed anatomical depictions of neuroanatomy in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Cheeky devil, that Mike.

Kinder Than Necessary

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."

=James M. Barrie + Plato
Above, a portmanteau of a quote, said to be jointly developed from statements of the two distinguished gentlemen, according to a post in a discussion of the various kindnesses delivered by Mr. Keanu Reeves, "struggling musician", post-modern Messiah of several alternate timestreams and genuinely nice guy.

Images of the Week

Dennis Hopper, "Double Standard".

Harold Edgerton, "Stonehenge at Night" (1944). via BLDGBLOG

Unknown, "What the devil's for dinner?", via Design Observer

Gulf Pelicans in Oil, Telegraph.

Michael Chung, "Stare Game", Pictory showcases New York.

Unknown. via rcs.

Faran Krentcil, modified BP sign. via Siege.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Funny Looking

Yesterday, in the course of a quarter mile trip to return some videos to the library, no less than five people gave me looks of the kind of profound disgust you might give to someone with feces smeared on their face. It got to the point where I checked myself in the mirror--no feces. Checked the car for kittens stapled to the front fender--no kittens.

I'm stumped.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Links for Later

Keynesian Porn

John Underkoffer demonstrates Minority Report-style user interface.

Joshua Davis does some generative art about the BMW Z4.