A great picture

I couldn’t not post it. More here. A related link is this.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | biology, Nature, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Random wikipedia links of interest

1. Renin-angiotensin system.

2. Aggregation problem.

3. Pawnless chess endgame.

4. Boltzmann brain

5. Insect flight.

6. Homeostasis.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | biology, Chess, economics, medicine, philosophy, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Commodity prices

Just thought I’d post the graph here:

Mark Perry, via MR.

In the graph, there’s included a downward sloping trend. Just two remarks, do note that…

1) given the volatility of this dataset, a lot depends on which time period you’re looking at; a trend from 1935 to 1980 would most likely slope upwards, so it’s not like it’s a natural law that commodity prices slope downwards over time, and…

2) it depends a lot on which commodities you’re looking at. Here’s a graph mapping the cost development of coal, natural gas, petroleum ect.; every single one of these price indexes increased from 1970 to 2000. If you like, you can compare this with this graph of world grain prices over (roughly) the same time period. Incidentally, the estimated world population grew by more than 50 percent during that time period.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | data, economic history, economics | Leave a comment


Just a random collection of quotes. I normally use twitter to post these, but sometimes the 140 character rule gets quite annoying, so this’ll probably not be the last blogpost of its kind.

A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere. (Groucho Marx)

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do. (Benjamin Franklin)

If I were reincarnated, I’d want to come back a buzzard. Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything. (William Faulkner)

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last. (Winston Churchill)

They don’t ask much of you. They only want you to hate the things you love and to love the things you despise. (Boris Pasternak)

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. (Aldous Huxley)

All children are born Atheists (Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach)

The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it. (George Marshall)

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. (Charles Darwin)

We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others. (François de La Rochefoucauld)

The truest way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others. (-ll-) Along the same lines:

The desire to appear clever often prevents one from being so. (-ll-)

If you have never read any of François de La Rochefoucauld’s writing, go here right now. You will not regret it.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment

A note on taxation in Denmark

I’ve seen the idea of implementing a VAT in the US discussed quite a few places in the blogosphere lately, ie. here. I’m sure it’s a subject that will come up again, so here are a few remarks that might be of interest when it comes to the current Danish tax system.

First follow this link, read all of it, it’s not long. It’s an overview of the Danish income tax system; I could have copied it here, but it’s all there at the link anyway. It doesn’t include everything of course, on top of that Denmark has a VAT of 25 % which isn’t mentioned at the link – you can read more about that here – as well as a lot of fees and levies. The government gets a lot of money from us every year.

It also spends a lot of money. The government debt is actually growing, per capita government debt grew from 35.000 kroners to 55.000 kroners in 2009, a more than 50 % increase (link – in Danish). If you look at the percentage of GDP, government debt grew from ~11 pct. of GDP in 2008 to 18 pct. of GDP in 2009. The Danish National Bank has estimated that this years budget deficit will be 100 billion kroners, which means that per capita government debt will grow to 80.000 kroners by January 2011. That is a total government debt of 437,5 billion kroners – compared to a debt of 195 billion kroners in 2008; the government will more than double its debt in the years of 2009-2010.

Point is, when you add a new income source to the government, the government will find a way to spend the money. New taxes don’t mean lower budget deficits in the future, they just mean higher government expenditures in the future. Denmark is the country in the world with the highest taxes, and our government is still running a budget deficit of 5-6 % of GDP (the government’s own estimate is 4,9 % of GDP for 2010, but its estimate of the debt accumulation is, as is to be expected, somewhat lower than that of the Danish National Bank). Also, the long run fiscal outlook does not look good either – the problem is not limited to current business cycle developments; despite the current very high level of government income, current spending just isn’t sustainable in the long run, even if our relatively low debt to GDP-ratio gives the government some extra years to let everything turn to crap before reforms will be implemented.

I’d like to elaborate a little on that last point. Right now, a newborn Dane will on average, given current policy, cost the government 900.000 kroners (NPV) during his/her lifetime (no, the numbers are not the same for the two genders as females are on average more costly than males, but I’ll let that one slide for now). The DREAM-group (Danish Rational Economic Agents Model) has calculated that the 2006 structural (non-business cycle related) primary public budget surplus of 3,8 percent of GDP will turn into a 3,6 percent deficit by 2040.

February 19, 2010 Posted by | economics, taxation | Leave a comment

Quote of the day (/week?/month?)

This one is just great:

One of my favorite rants is to imagine that the personal auto had not been invented 100-odd years ago, and we were all riding around in trains and trolleys and buses.

Along comes the smart inventor. He, of course, is called before a Senate committee.

Senator: So, Mr. Inventor, how fast do you think these vehicles will go?

Inventor: 60 or 70 or 80 miles an hour.

Senator: OMG! How are you going to keep them from running into each other at those speeds?

Inventor: We’re going to paint lines on the road.

We’d still be riding in trolleys.


February 17, 2010 Posted by | history, regulation | 1 Comment

A couple of brain teasers

I have, with admittedly somewhat varying intensity throughout the period, been studying László Polgár’s book, which I’ve mentioned before here on this blog and on twitter, for months. I thought I might as well share a few of the problems with you, so that you have an idea what it’s about. In the post I’ll write a little about the book first, then I’ll post two random problems from the book; if you want to skip directly to the chess problems, just scroll down until you get there.

The book contains chess problems and nothing else. 5334 of them. Not all of them are composed, some positions are from actual games that have been played between various strong players. Some of them are quite easy, some of them are very, very hard. Far most of the book is made up of problems that consist of positions where you are supposed to find a ‘mate in one’, ‘mate in two’ or ‘mate in three’, even though there’s also a few combinations, simple endgames and such at the end of the book. Far most of the problems are ‘mate in two’ problems. I’ve included a couple of problems in the end of this post. I shall not post ‘the answers’ unless asked for it, and if so only in the comment section. Not all roads lead to Rome; there’s only one correct solution. Here’s a picture of a random page from the book (the notes written in between the diagrams aren’t there when you get the book – I wrote those, and they are the solutions to the problems in question):

30^2 is 900. This is just to say that a mate in two can be a lot harder than it looks, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re having some difficulty solving it; if you have Queens on the board, a few other pieces and an open position, you’ll often have to implicitly analyze well beyond 500 possible positions in a ‘simple’ mate in two problem. A lot of them you can discard out of hand, but there’s still often a lot of complexity left in positions that on the surface look very simple. To state this another way: There are a lot of these problems that you simply can’t solve by just blindly trying every move you can think of, at least not in a time frame most people would consider acceptable – you need to find the plan. Finding the plans is what makes you better.

I believe I’ve improved my play somewhat by using this book, even if it’s hard to know for certain as I don’t have a rating and currently play only unrated games online. You’ll need some other stuff to teach you the basics, but going through this book systematically is a great way to improve a bit beyond the 1200 crowd. Even if one might think that a book containing almost nothing but mating problems would be skewed towards teaching only the tactical elements of the game, there’s actually a lot of positional stuff hidden here as well.

Ah, yes, the problems I’ve picked out:

a) In this problem, you need to find a way for white to mate in two moves, no matter how black responds to white’s moves. That is, after white’s second move black is supposed to be check-mated:

b) This is a mate in three moves instead, white to move:

February 15, 2010 Posted by | books, Chess | 12 Comments

Post number 1000

I did not expect to ever get close to that when I started this blog. Just as I never expected to get 100.000 hits, a number I’ll likely reach in just a few more months.

So yeah, there are a lot of posts here on this blog by now. If you ever feel like reading some stuff I’ve written about a particular subject, you can use the categories or the search function in the sidebar to navigate. I’ve tried during the lifetime of this blog to make this kind of navigation easier than it used to be, and I do believe I’ve become a lot better at using the categories than I used to be. Quite a few of the categories actually by now have a post volume that I think make them worthwhile using.

Both when it comes to posts I’ve already written and when it comes to posts I have yet to write, I’d like to make it clear that you can’t take it for granted that you’ll always be able to go back to the post on my blog. You should save the post somewhere else if you think it’s worth saving. I don’t write many of those posts anyway, but just in case you stumble upon one or two, keep this in mind.

[Comments in Danish are, as always, welcome]

February 14, 2010 Posted by | blogging, meta | Leave a comment

Promoting the unknown, a continuing series

“Medtner’s music unfortunately is of the kind that rarely makes the best impression at first hearing” – Marc-André Hamelin. Give him a chance anyway:





Edit: I don’t know why, but wordpress seems to be having some problems with youtube embeds. I’ve experienced not being able to see the embeds on the page a couple of times, and I can’t see the videos now either. I can’t see the Clementi videos either, it seems to be a universal problem with the embedding function. I’ve added a link to the pieces below the embeds in the post, so that you can at least watch the videos on youtube if the embedded videos here on the site are “invisible” to you. I don’t think I have to say this, but I am very annoyed by this problem right now.

February 13, 2010 Posted by | music | Leave a comment

Some search results

I just tried to search for some different terms in google scholar to satisfy my own curiosity, selected results below (the numbers indicates # of hits for each search item):

Economics: 3.060.000

Oil: 2.760.000

Europe: 2.480.000

Africa: 1.740.000

Corruption: 837.000

Uranium: 652.000

“Monetary policy”: 561.000

“Fiscal policy”: 336.000

“Foreign Aid”: 132.000

“George Bush”: 82.100 (interestingly, the first result is a study called Cognitive and emotional influences in anterior cingulate cortex written by a neurologist named G Bush. Not all these studies are about the former President)

“Wal-Mart”: 55.400

“Saddam Hussein”: 49.600

“financial innovation”: 18.200

“bank run”: 5.890

A few remarks (more could of course be said): I think it’s interesting that there are more articles available about oil than articles about Europe or Africa (or Asia; haven’t checked NA). I think in general there’s a high output of articles about natural ressources (to mention a few other examples; iron: 2.38 mill, coal: 1.3 mill). Also, there are 67 % more articles about monetary policy than there are articles about fiscal policy. There are almost 10 times as many articles about Wal-Mart than there are articles about bank runs; I did not see that one coming.

February 11, 2010 Posted by | random stuff | Leave a comment

I’ll have to read up on that at some point

With respect to diabetes, it’s now understood that several types of cancer are more common: colon, pancreas, and breast.

Link, the main topic of the article is the hypothesized link between injections of insulin analogs and cancer.

My granddad on my father’s side died of colon cancer, so that one already runs in the family. This link has some information about the genetics of that disease.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | cancer, diabetes, health, random stuff | Leave a comment

A game

Time-control: 10+0, I was white – here’s the link. Black lost on time, but Fritz evaluates the end position to somewhere north of +7, so it was lost for black either way. In retrospect I made some dubious moves (ie. h5) which might be over-committing and perhaps would have lost me the game against a stronger opponent, and I also missed the shortest way to the win with 31.Bg5, however it was still a very nice game. Here’s the end position, black to move:

February 5, 2010 Posted by | Chess | Leave a comment

(more) Bad news from Africa

There were an estimated 2.7 million new infections worldwide in 2008; 1.9 million of them were in Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people added to treatment each year is also increasing rapidly, but not rapidly enough to keep up with new infections. Worldwide in 2008, 1.1 million people were added to treatment; 825,000 of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

That is, more than 1 million newly diagnosed untreated were added to the pool of HIV/AIDS-infected people living in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008. If we ignore the growth rates and just look at the levels, less than half of all the people infected are on antiretroviral drugs:

only 44% of people in need of ARV treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa were actually receiving it

Aid Watch. There’s a lot more at the link, if you follow the links in that post. Here’s one of the main links, a big and depressing report on the problem.

February 4, 2010 Posted by | Africa, health | 1 Comment

An update on US mortgage debt

Nearly 10.7 million, or 23 percent, of all residential properties with mortgages were in negative equity as of September, 2009. An additional 2.3 million mortgages were approaching negative equity, meaning they had less than five percent equity. Together negative equity and near negative equity mortgages account for nearly 28 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide.

The distribution of negative equity is heavily concentrated in five states: Nevada (65 percent), which had the highest percentage negative equity, followed by Arizona (48 percent), Florida (45 percent), Michigan (37 percent) and California (35 percent). Among the top five states, the average negative equity share was 40 percent, compared to 14 percent for the remaining states. In numerical terms, California (2.4 million) and Florida (2.0 million) had the largest number of negative equity mortgages accounting for 4.4 million or 42 percent of all negative equity loans.

Calculated Risk. I missed the post when he first posted it last year, but he drew attention to these numbers yesterday, so I decided to take a closer look, there’s quite a bit more at the first link. In Nevada almost two out of three homeowners with a mortgage are underwater, and half of all homeowners with a mortgage have negative equity of 25% or more (which is the point where default likelihood starts to rise dramatically). That is a lot of debt.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | economics, USA | 1 Comment

Quote of the day

“I got a paper to review (submitted to the Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Sciences), written by a Korean guy and someone from Berkeley, that claims that the method of reconstruction that we use in dendroclimatology (reverse regression) is wrong, biased, lousy, horrible, etc. They use your Tornetrask recon as the main whipping boy. I have a file that you gave me in 1993 that comes from your 1992 paper. Below is part of that file. Is this the right one? Also, is it possible to resurrect the column headings? I would like to play with it in an effort to refute their claims.
If published as is, this paper could really do some damage. It is also an ugly paper to review because it is rather mathematical, with a lot of Box-Jenkins stuff in it. It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically, but it suffers from the classic problem of pointing out theoretical deficiencies, without showing that their improved inverse regression method is actually better in a practical sense. So they do lots of monte carlo stuff that shows the superiority of their method and the deficiencies of our way of doing things, but NEVER actually show how their method would change the Tornetrask reconstruction from what you produced.”

Edward Cook, in one of the hacked CRU mails, via CountingCats, the italics are mine. The links have more. This part: It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct… just pisses me off, bigtime.

February 2, 2010 Posted by | global warming, quotes | Leave a comment