The difference

Well, one of them:

That would be the economist’s take. The economist with philosophical leanings would probably add that even if people claim that they find the idea of putting a value on another human being horrible, they do it themselves all the time anyway without even thinking about it.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | Cartoons, economics | 2 Comments

Quote of the day

as far as I can tell, there is no reason at all to believe that academic peer review in economics favors work relevant to policymaking in the real, embodied political economy as opposed to clever mathematical accounts of phenomena in fictional worlds that bear at best some tenuous structural similarities to this world.

Will Wilkinson.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | economics, quotes | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

“I recall paying $16,000 for a 67MB hard drive (a “Winchester”) sometime around 1980-1. That’s $240/MB. Today you can buy a TB drive for about $100 at retail. That’s 15,000 times the storage at 1/160 the price.”

Bernard Yomtov, here.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment

A Farewell to Arms

…just finished reading it.

This is the best book I’ve read this year so far, recommended. I liked it better than The Old Man and The Sea, which I read the day before yesterday (yes, I got to read quite a bit of Hemingway this week).

Blogging will probably be light for the next couple of days as well; I’m spending much of my time reading ‘offline’ at the moment.

June 25, 2010 Posted by | books | Leave a comment


1. “It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called living.” (Terry Pratchett)

2. “There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation.” (J.S. Mill. Karl Popper wasn’t the first one to think along the lines he did)

3. “To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” (J.S. Mill)

4. “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. […] A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” (-ll-)

5. “No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.” (Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury)

6. Among those who give thoughts to things, is there one who does not think of suicide? (Yasunari Kawabata)

7. Six hundred years ago we would have been burned for this. Now, what I’m suggesting is that we’ve advanced. (John Cleese, defending Life of Brian)

8. “As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying.” (Arthur C. Clarke)

9. “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” (-ll-)

I’ve started reading J.S. Mill’s On Liberty. I’ll probably quote extensively from that book at a later point in time.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | books, quotes | 5 Comments



Her er et aldeles urelateret link. Bedste to sætninger: Eleverne læser ganske vist teksten. Fra ende til anden, men når dansklærer Christina spørger dem, hvad de har læst, så svarer omkring halvdelen, at det kan de ikke huske.

‘Det kan jeg ikke huske’. Det var vist også en af de mest populære undskyldninger, dengang jeg gik i folkeskolen.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | xkcd | Leave a comment

Random wikipedia links of interest

1. Corrosion.

2. Demographics of the People’s Republic of China. A few quotes from the article:

a) “Census data obtained in 2000 revealed that 119 boys were born for every 100 girls, and among China’s “floating population” the ratio was as high as 128:100. These situations led the government in July 2004 to ban selective abortions of female fetuses. It is estimated that this imbalance will rise until 2025–2030 to reach 20% then slowly decrease.[2]”

b) “Average household size (2005) 3.1; rural households 3.3; urban households 3.0.
Average annual per capita disposable income of household (2005): rural households Y 3,255 (U.S.$397), urban households Y 10,493 (U.S.$1,281).”

c) A map of the population density (darker squares have higher density):

The ‘average population density’ of 137/km2 is not an all that interesting variable. The Gobi desert is not a nice place for humans to live: The temperature variation in the area is extreme, ranging from –40°C in the winter to +50°C in the summer.

3. Cost overrun. An excerpt:

“Cost overrun is common in infrastructure, building, and technology projects. One of the most comprehensive studies [1] of cost overrun that exists found that 9 out of 10 projects had overrun, overruns of 50 to 100 percent were common, overrun was found in each of 20 nations and five continents covered by the study, and overrun had been constant for the 70 years for which data were available. For IT projects, an industry study by the Standish Group (2004) found that average cost overrun was 43 percent, 71 percent of projects were over budget, over time, and under scope, and total waste was estimated at US$55 billion per year in the US alone.”

4. Tensor. This is difficult stuff.

5. Eye.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | biology, Chemistry, data, demographics, economics, Geography, mathematics, wikipedia | 7 Comments

To be fair, sometimes they do use data and models as well, but…

Link. Today’s xkcd cartoon is pretty funny too. An advice: Get a globe! Look at it every now and then. It will keep you from looking like a complete moron – and maybe it’ll also keep you from ever becoming president of the United States – win/win! I btw. have a globe standing less than two feet away from my desk, so I get to look at one every day.

June 14, 2010 Posted by | economics | Leave a comment

Lynch on Lynch

I’m currently finishing this book and it was an enjoyable read. A few excerpts from the book below:

“Some people, just by their nature, think about the President of the United States and Africa and Asia. Their mind thinks over thousands of miles, big problems and big situations. That just completely leaves me cold. I can’t get there. I like to think about a neighbourhood – like a fence, like a ditch, and somebody digging a hole, and then a girl in this house, and a tree, and what’s happening in that tree – a little local place that I can get into.” (p.10)

“We favour ourselves in all our memories. We make ourselves act better in the past and make better decisions and we’re nicer to people and we take more credit than we probably deserve. We candy-coat like crazy so we can go forward and live. An accurate memory of the past would be depressing, probably. […] like Fred Madison says in Lost Highway, ‘I prefer to remember things my own way.’ Everybody does that to a certain degree.” (p.13)

“I’m living in Philadelphia and I’m married to Peggy and have a little baby, Jennifer. And I’m living in a twelve-room house! […] the entire house cost me $3,500! The ENTIRE HOUSE! So you can imagine the type of neighbourhood that this house was in! […]
We lived cheap, but the city was full of fear. A kid was shot to death down the street, and the chalk marks around where he’d lain stayed on the sidewalk for five days. We were robbed twice, had windows shot out and a car stolen. The house was first broken into only tree days after we moved in, but I had a sword that Peggy’s father had given me. I don’t know what era this sword was from, but I kept it under the bed. And I woke up to see Peggy’s face about one inch from mine with a fear that I hope I never see on a person’s face again. ‘There’s someone in the house!’ I leapt up, put my underwear on backwards and grabbed this sword, and started screaming, ‘Get the hell out of here!’ I went to the head of the stairs with the sword raised and kept screaming. And these people who’d broken in were confused because the house had been vacant for so long, they were used to coming in. It dawned on them that someone was living there now and they left. […] the bricks might as well have been paper. The feeling was so close to extreme danger, and the fear was so intense. There was violence and hate and filth. But the biggest influence in my whole life was that city.” (p.42-43)

“So Rick and I went over to Dino’s office and they had the cards from the screening [of Blue Velvet]. They were like: ‘David Lynch should be shot!’ Question: ‘What did you like best about the movie?’ Answers: ‘The dog, Sparky’; ‘The ending!’; ‘When it was over!’ It was like the worst preview screening Larry – who’d been in the business for years – had ever seen. The cards were the worst he had ever, ever seen. And if it wasn’t for Dino, they might have put the movie on the shelf. I’m not kidding. But Dino said, ‘David. We took a chance, and we see now it’s not a film for everybody. So we learn and we go on.’ (p.149)

This is btw. more or less true for all Lynch’ movies. They aren’t for everybody and some people will simply hate what others consider to be his best works.

Winning at Cannes was the worst thing that ever happened to me. (p.207)

June 12, 2010 Posted by | books | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

When I was a young child, I envisioned heaven as an eternal guided tour through the universe, unconstrained by time and distance. One could check out planets, galaxies, and nebulae as much as one wished. See what killed the dinosaurs. Feed trilobites.

That would be my heaven. And I’ll admit to looking down on people whose idea of heaven is ‘seeing Gran again’ as terminally dull and without imagination.

Link. There’s at least a dozen potential ‘quotes of the day’ hidden in that post – about the implausibility of the traditional religious constructs of Heaven and Hell – and the comment section. To people who feel that way, you should try watching the Doctor Who series (2005-) – in all likelihood, you’ll like it.

Also, to those who don’t already know; eternity is a long time. I mean, like, a very long time. Think about it!

Trying to imagine eternity is the same thing as trying to imagine infinity. People who know a bit about mathematics know how hard this is. Most people thinking about how an afterlife might look like primarily think about the first five years after death. That’s not ‘the afterlife’, that’s like the afterlife-equivalent of less than 1 nanosecond in this life. If you had to imagine all the stuff you might do in the eternal afterlife, your current life would by definition not be long enough to even begin doing it.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | quotes, religion | Leave a comment

Sommerbilleder 2010

Jeg tilbagelagde ca. 24 kilometer i går, de fleste i løb – men ikke alle. Det var vidunderligt vejr, så der skulle tages nogle billeder – og det kan man ikke gøre, mens man løber.

Billederne herunder er taget i Risskov. Hvis vi mødtes derude i går, så et forsinket ‘hej’ herfra. Århus er en dejlig by at løbe i, især når du er oppe på nogle km, for så vil der nærmest uanset hvor du bor være mindst et grønt område i nærheden. Med de afstande jeg efterhånden er nået op på, er der langt flere muligheder for at sammensætte nogle smukke ruter forskellige steder i (og udenfor…) byen end der var, dengang jeg i sin tid holdt mig til måske 5-10 km – endnu et argument for at løbe langt; når du er omkring de 25 km eller derover er det nærmest kun fantasien, der sætter grænser, især hvis du er villig til at kombinere turen med offentlig transport på udturen (at gøre det på vejen hjem kan derimod ikke anbefales og jeg har aldrig gjort det).

Billederne fylder meget på siden, så jeg har lagt dem under folden. Det var svært at vælge eksemplarer ud, for der var rigtigt meget godt at vælge imellem. Batteriet på kameraet gik selvfølgelig dødt et minut før jeg bogstaveligt talt var lige ved at træde på en skovmus (tror det var sådan en her).

Continue reading

June 6, 2010 Posted by | billeder | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

“Believing you understand your motivations and desires, your likes and dislikes, is called the Introspection Illusion.

You believe you know yourself, and why you are they way you are. You believe this knowledge tells you how you will act in all future situations. Research shows otherwise.

Time after time, experiments show introspection is not the act of tapping into your innermost mental constructs, but is instead a fabrication, a construction, a fiction.

You look at what you did, or how you felt, and you make up some sort of explanation which you can reasonably believe. If you have to tell others, you make up an explanation they can believe too.

When it comes to explaining why you like the things you like, you are not so smart, and the very act of having to explain yourself can change your attitudes.”

From this post, the blog has a lot more. Via MR.

Links to some of the studies would be nice, basically I just have to take the guys word for it because I’ve never read much of the psych litterature, but the posts do make you think, whether the claims are true or not.

I feel that in my case, I don’t know much about my motivations and desires, I just don’t know myself all that well, but that of course doesn’t stop me from trying to rationalize behaviour that is inherently irrational. In my model of the humans, we’re rationalizing creatures, not rational creatures. Monkeys in fancy clothes.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Psychology, quotes | Leave a comment

Random wikipedia articles of interest

1. Dunning-Kruger effect.

“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which “people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”[1] The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the perverse situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people.”

2. Naval history of Japan. Lots of links, lots of good stuff. If you’ve never heard about the term ‘gunboat diplomacy’ before, here’s a good example from the article:

“Many isolated attempts to end Japan’s seclusion were made by expanding Western powers during the 19th century. American, Russian and French ships all attempted to engage in relationship with Japan, but were rejected.

These largely unsuccessful attempts continued until, on July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy with four warships: Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna steamed into the Bay of Edo (Tokyo) and displayed the threatening power of his ships’ Paixhans guns. He demanded that Japan open to trade with the West. These ships became known as the kurofune, or Black Ships.

Barely one month after Perry, the Russian Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin arrived in Nagasaki on August 12, 1853. He made a demonstration of a steam engine on his ship the Pallada, which led to Japan’s first manufacture of a steam engine, created by Tanaka Hisashige.

The following year, Perry returned with seven ships and forced the shogun to sign the “Treaty of Peace and Amity”, establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States, known as the Convention of Kanagawa (March 31, 1854).”

3. Mosquito. Some interesting facts about these creatures:
a) There are about 3,500 species of mosquitoes found throughout the world.
b) The composition of mosquito saliva is relatively simple as it usually contains fewer than 20 dominant proteins. Despite the great strides in knowledge of these molecules and their role in bloodfeeding achieved recently, scientists still cannot ascribe functions to more than half of the molecules found in arthropod saliva.
c) Mosquitoes are estimated to transmit disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico and much of Asia with millions of resulting deaths. At least 2 million people annually die of these diseases.
d) The oldest known mosquito with an anatomy similar to modern species was found in 79-million-year-old Canadian amber from the Cretaceous.

4. Fourier–Motzkin elimination.

5. Gunpowder.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | biology, history, mathematics, Psychology, wikipedia | 3 Comments

A combination

Just because you’re a pawn ahead doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Even if your sleepdeprived opponent just threw away two pawns for no good reason (after having won one in the opening):

Black to move. In this position I played 18…Rc4. Do note that this kind of rook-maneuvering is pretty standard in positions where there’s a potential attack on the opponent’s king and some minor pieces have been exchanged. White played 19.Qa7? which was ‘the losing move’ – after ie. 19.Qd1 white is simply better and ‘should win with correct play’. The correct defence for white requires that he takes black’s threats seriously and protects the light squares on the king-side – in particular the f3 square. Even if it perhaps doesn’t look that way, the position before 19.Qa7 was played is literally only one wrong move away from a forced mate for black. After 19.Qa7 the position looks like this:

…and if you plug this position into the computer, it does tell you that black has a forced mate in 7. Which I found. No, I wasn’t sure there was a mate, but I knew I had a winning attack, so I went for it:

19…Nf3+ (what else?), 20.Kh8 (forced) …Qh5!

Before checking on f3 I briefly considered taking on h2 after Kh8, but I soon concluded that that couldn’t be the strongest move – then I found Qh5 and I felt sure I had to be winning. The point is that black can’t take on f3 because it leads to mate (21.gxf3 …Qxf3+ 22.Kg1 Rg4#) and the mating threats in the h-file are simply crushing. The computer suggests 21.Bf4 as the best move, but of course that only postpones the inevitable – the mate can’t be stopped. My opponent played…

21.h3 Rh4!

This is a classic lost position just before the end of an attack. White is actually still up a pawn but this is of course completely irrelevant. The attacker has three pieces engaged in the attack on the king, the defender hasn’t even got a single piece involved in the defence of the critical squares in the h and g-file. Remember that when attacking it’s not the number of pieces on the board that counts, it’s the number of pieces that are actually active and engaged in the attack on the king (…and the defence of the king). In this position, black might as well not have the Queen or the rooks at all – at this point they don’t do anything that is relevant to what’s going on on the board and it’s too late to get them involved in the action. Even the rook on f1 is despite its proximity to the white king completely useless here.

22.Qxb7 Rxh3+

Resigned, 0-1 (after 23.gxh3, which is forced, Qxh3 mates).

June 4, 2010 Posted by | Chess | Leave a comment


Lidt data:

1) Fertilitetsraten for de Palæstinensiske Territorier (Vestbredden og Gaza) i perioden 2000-2005: 5.63. I perioden 2005-2010: 5.09. (link).

2) Median-alderen for befolkningen i Gaza er 17.4 år. Over halvdelen af befolkningen i Gaza er altså børn eller unge og hvis de boede i Danmark, ville de fleste ikke være gamle nok til at have lov til at købe øl på et diskotek. For Vestbredden er tallet 20.5. (link)

3) Befolkningstætheden i Gaza er verdens 6. højeste i national sammenhæng: Der bor 4,118 mennesker pr. kvadratkilometer.

4) Den forventede levealder ved fødslen i de Palæstinensiske Territorier er 73.4 år. Det er over 6 år over verdensgennemsnittet, og det er højere end lande som Ungarn, Brasilien og Tyrkiet. Og ja, på trods af dette er halvdelen af befolkningen under 18 år i Gaza.

5) Ifølge Maddisons vækstdata formåede de Palæstinensiske Territorier at mere end halvere deres BNP/capita fra 2000 til 2006 (fra 1.397 internationale Geary-Khamis dollars evalueret i 1990 til 678). Selvfølgelig var 2001 og 2002 værst, men områderne havde negativ BNP/capita vækst i samtlige år i perioden.

Helt OT: 13 læsere har indtil nu klikket sig ind på poll-posten, men kun 3 har svaret på poll’en. What gives?

June 2, 2010 Posted by | data, demografi | Leave a comment

Douglas Adams: Parrots, the Universe and Everything

Not sure if you’ve already seen it, but if you haven’t you should. It’s a long video, 1,5 hours, so if you don’t have the time now, come back at some point and watch it later on – I’ve only seen a third of it yet but this is great stuff. HT: PZ Myers.

A few selected wikipedia-links relevant to the first third of the talk: Kakapo, Lemur, Komodo dragon, Snakebite, Gondwana. The first three of these are featured articles, so I’m not just linking to stubs here – they contain a lot of good stuff, and in general the articles in the biology class of wikipedia articles in my experience very often do.

June 1, 2010 Posted by | biology, random stuff | Leave a comment