An article on articles about articles

Here’s the link, this is great stuff and you really should read all of it. An excerpt:

“This is a news website article about a scientific paper

In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?”

In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research “challenges”.

If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.

This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like “the scientists say” to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.

In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won’t provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can’t be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.”

September 30, 2010 Posted by | Journalism, science, studies | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Laplace transform. (another thing to add to the ‘this is some of the stuff students of economics like me work with’)

2. Squaring the circle. If you want to know a lot of stuff about ancient greek mathematicians, just go to the bottom of that article and start clicking the links.

3. Tower of London. Today’s featured article. I’m surprised a featured article like this contains a section about ghosts. That part reads a bit too much like a tourist-brochure to my taste. Then again, surely a lot of good stuff in there, though I haven’t yet read much of it.

4. Forensic entomology. “Forensic entomology is the application and study of insect and other arthropod biology to criminal matters.”

(I had no idea such a field even existed!)

5. Banks Island. Almost twice as big as Denmark. I’d never even heard of it. Far more than half of the world’s population of muskoxen lives there, and it’s home to two thirds of the world’s population of lesser snow geese. The island is treeless and had a total population of 114 in 2001. It’s not a very hospitable territory for humans:

The ship above, HMS Investigator, was abandoned in 1853 after it was trapped in the ice. It was not found again until July this year.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Geography, history, mathematics, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Brain damaged?

“OBJECTIVE Hippocampal neurons in adult animals and humans are vulnerable to severe hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. Effects are hypothesized to be exacerbated during development, but existing studies on developing human brains are limited. We examined whether hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia experienced during brain development in humans affects hippocampal volumes.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS We analyzed T1-weighted magnetic resonance images in 95 youth with type 1 diabetes and 49 sibling control subjects aged 7–17 years. Youth with diabetes were categorized as having 0 (n = 37), 1–2 (n = 41), or 3 or more (3+; n = 17) prior severe hypoglycemic episodes. Hyperglycemia exposure was estimated from median lifetime A1C, weighted for duration of diabetes. Stereologic measurements of hippocampal volumes were performed in atlas-registered space to correct for whole brain volume.

RESULTS Greater exposure to severe hypoglycemia was associated with larger hippocampal volumes (F [3,138] = 3.6, P = 0.016; 3+ larger than all other groups, P < 0.05). Hyperglycemia exposure was not associated with hippocampal volumes (R2 change = 0.003, F [1,89] = 0.31, P = 0.58, semipartial r = 0.06; one outlier removed for high median A1C), and the 3+ severe hypoglycemia group still had larger hippocampal volumes after controlling for age of onset and hyperglycemia exposure (main effect of hypoglycemia category, F [2,88] = 6.4, P = 0.002; 3+ larger than all other groups, P < 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS Enlargement of the hippocampus may reflect a pathological reaction to hypoglycemia during brain development, such as gliosis, reactive neurogenesis, or disruption of normal developmental pruning."


"Greater exposure to severe hypoglycemia during childhood was associated with enlargement of hippocampal gray matter volume in youth with type 1 diabetes. This effect was not explained by age, sex, degree of hyperglycemia exposure, age of onset, or duration of disease and was equivalent for both hemispheres. Although the direction of the effect was unexpected, the fact that the subset of youth with three or more severe hypoglycemic episodes in their past was different from all other groups, including sibling control subjects, supports the sensitivity of the hippocampus to effects of repeated hypoglycemic episodes during brain development. These data do not support the idea that chronic hyperglycemia in childhood affects gray matter volume in the hippocampus."

From a new study, Hippocampal Volumes in Youth With Type 1 Diabetes, by Hershey, Perantie, Wu, Weaver, Black and White (no, I’m not making those last two names up, go take a look at the link).

If I’d participated in the study, I’d have been in the 3 or more group (the ‘more group’ part of the ‘3 or more group’, to be more specific).

September 26, 2010 Posted by | data, diabetes, personal, studies | Leave a comment

Promoting the unknown, a continuing series

September 25, 2010 Posted by | music | Leave a comment

Book burnings

I’ll give the word to Terry Pratchett, here’s a passage from The Light Fantastic:

“Lackjaw was lost in thought for a moment. ‘Setting fire to things,’ he said at last. ‘They’re quite good at that. Books and stuff. They have these great big bonfires.’
Cohen [Cohen the Barbarian that is, US] was shocked.
‘Bonfires of books?’
‘Yes. Horrible, isn’t it?’
‘Right,’ said Cohen. He thought it was appalling. Someone who spent his life living rough under the sky knew the value of a good thick book, which ought to outlast at least a season of cooking fires if you were careful how you tore the pages out. Many a life had been saved on a snowy night by a handful of sodden kindling and a really dry book. If you felt like a smoke and couldn’t find a pipe, a book was your man every time.
Cohen realized people wrote things in books. It had always seemed to him to be a frivolous waste of paper.”

I generally like books. Well, that’s not actually true, I like good books. They are in the minority of all books. Lots of bad books out there. If ten million of those bad books disappeared out of thin air, I think the world would be a better place. People picking up a random book would be more likely to pick up a good one and this would be an improvement over the status quo, because bad books do a lot of harm by making people who read them forget that there are good books out there, or at least by making the good books harder to find. I guess I’m saying I have a hard time getting why anyone besides the clichéed bespectacled 60 year old librarian care about whether some guy decides to set a book on fire or not. Most people who think they ought to hold an opinion on the subject haven’t even read the damn book, many of them haven’t even read all that many books in the first place and most of the ones they’ve read were likely crap anyway. Why care? – life’s way too short to care about something like this.

Symbols are but what we make of them.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | books, quotes, random stuff | 2 Comments

Health disparities in the EU

The title of the paper, Inequalities in healthy life years in the 25 countries of the European Union in 2005: a cross-national meta-regression analysis, was too long for me to use as a post title.

“Background: Although life expectancy in the European Union (EU) is increasing, whether most of these extra years are spent in good health is unclear. This information would be crucial to both contain health-care costs and increase labour-force participation for older people. We investigated inequalities in life expectancies and healthy life years (HLYs) at 50 years of age for the 25 countries in the EU in 2005 and the potential for increasing the proportion of older people in the labour force.”

“Findings: In 2005, an average 50-year-old man in the 25 EU countries could expect to live until 67,3 years free of activity limitation, and a woman to 68,1 years. HLYs at 50 years for both men and women varied more between countries than did life expectancy (HLY range for men: from 9,1 years in Estonia to 23,6 years in Denmark; for women: from 10,4 years in Estonia to 24,1 years in Denmark). Gross domestic product and expenditure on elderly care were both positively associated with HLYs at 50 years in men and women (p<0,039 for both indicators and sexes); however, in men alone, long-term unemployment was negatively associated (p=0,023) and life-long learning positively associated (p=0,021) with HLYs at 50 years of age."

I did not know that Denmark did that well on this metric. The link has a lot more.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | demographics, health, studies | 1 Comment

Another world

This post was interesting. Here’s a quote from the Henderson piece (the original post has been deleted but Brad Delong reposted it):

“A quick look at our family budget, which I will happily share with the White House, will show him that like many Americans, we are just getting by despite seeming to be rich. We aren’t.” […] “The biggest expense for us is financing government. Last year, my wife and I paid nearly $100,000 in federal and state taxes, not even including sales and other taxes.” […] “Our next biggest expense, like most people, is our mortgage. Homes near our work in Chicago aren’t cheap and we do not have friends who were willing to help us finance the deal.”

“Like most working Americans, insurance, doctors’ bills, utilities, two cars, daycare, groceries, gasoline, cell phones, and cable TV (no movie channels) round out our monthly expenses. We also have someone who cuts our grass, cleans our house, and watches our new baby so we can both work outside the home. At the end of all this, we have less than a few hundred dollars per month of discretionary income. We occasionally eat out but with a baby sitter, these nights take a toll on our budget. Life in America is wonderful, but expensive.

If our taxes rise significantly, as they seem likely to, we can cut back on some things. The (legal) immigrant from Mexico who owns the lawn service we employ will suffer, as will the (legal) immigrant from Poland who cleans our house a few times a month. We can cancel our cell phones and some cable channels, as well as take our daughter from her art class at the community art center, but these are only a few hundred dollars per month in total.”

Both high-income and low-income people have a lot of fixed costs, in the sense that we all choose to think of stuff that isn’t fixed as if it is. Most stuff that’s fixed is only fixed until your income changes. The Henderson person shows a real lack of imagination. ‘If we still are to live in this neat house in a nice neighbourhood, own two cars, buy new clothes regularly, eat well…’ How about ‘what would happen if my income dropped to half of what it is now?’ No, I don’t like the ‘tax the rich until they are poor mindset’, but if you can take a hit like that permanently and survive, you’re very rich in my mind. That said, it’s pretty much human nature to think the way the Henderson person does. Limited ressources, unlimited wants.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | random stuff | 5 Comments

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. False friends. Not what you think. One of the examples from the article:

“In Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, gift means “poison” but also “married”.”

2. Hernán Cortés.

3. Coriolis effect. If you click the link, do note the number of links to articles on physical oceanography at the bottom of that post. Wikipedia is amazing.

4. Topographic prominence.

“In topography, prominence, also known as autonomous height, relative height, shoulder drop (in North America), or prime factor (in Europe), is a concept used in the categorization of hills and mountains, also known as peaks. It is a measure of the independent stature of a summit…”

5. Citric acid cycle. Here’s the not-quite-so-short-version (click to view in a higher res):

September 20, 2010 Posted by | biology, Geography, Geology, history, wikipedia | Leave a comment


1. “Understanding does not occur when we try to intercept what someone wants to say to us by claiming we already know it.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer)

2. “We cannot understand without wanting to understand, that is, without wanting to let something be said” (-ll-)

3. “The fact that you will regret a choice does not imply that the choice is irrational, since the way our regret works is itself irrational.” (Wei Dai)

4. “Just because you are anti-evolution doesn’t mean you are anti-science.” (Conor Lenihan, Ireland’s Minister of State for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural Resources. A guy like that most likely stops at the first sentence in a post like this (recommended).)

5. Having included 4, I have to include this as well:

“Dogbert: My invention can detect human stupidity. It has a very simple interface. All I do is point it at people.
Dilbert: Then what does it do?
Dogbert: Why would it need to do anything else?”

6. “‘What am I going to die of?’ said Rincewind.
The tall figure hesitated.
PARDON? it said.
‘Well, I haven’t broken anything, and I haven’t drowned, so what am I about to die of? You can’t just be killed by Death; there has to be a reason,’ said Rincewind. […]
Death appeared to reach a conclusion.
YOU COULD DIE OF TERROR, the hood intoned. The voice still had its graveyard ring, but there was a slight tremor of uncertainty.
‘Won’t work,’ said Rincewind smugly.
‘Hey, you can’t do that! It’d be murder!'” (Terry Pratchett, The colour of Magic)

7) “Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.” (Francis Bacon)

8 ) “The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds.” (-ll-. Youarenotsosmart’s latest post has a lot more on this subject)

September 16, 2010 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment

Income and happiness

“Recent research has begun to distinguish two aspects of subjective well-being. Emotional well-being refers to the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience — the frequency and intensity of experiences
of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant. Life evaluation refers to the thoughts that people have about their life when they think about it. We raise the question of whether money buys happiness, separately for these two aspects of well-being. We report an analysis of more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily survey of 1,000 US residents conducted by the Gallup Organization. We find that emotional well-being (measured by questions about emotional experiences yesterday) and life evaluation (measured by Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Scale) have different correlates. Income and education are more closely related to life evaluation, but health, care giving, loneliness, and smoking are relatively stronger predictors of daily emotions. When plotted against log income, life evaluation rises steadily. Emotional well-being also rises with log income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of ∼$75,000. Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone. We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”

Here’s the paper, called: ‘High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being’, by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton.

Income != Wealth. In general I’d argue that the income coefficient will underestimate the utility of money because of this in analyses like these, as the low income group both contains people who have significant assets and relatively low income (retirees) and people with similar incomes but no assets and/or significant debt; the latter group is more vulnerable than the former and estimating something like self-reported anxiety while completely disregarding savings in the money part of the equation is perhaps not exactly optimal (I’m almost certain it’s a data problem here, not an oversight by the authors, I’m just saying that it’s likely a problem).

You should read all of it, it’s not a long paper but it’s quite good. Here’s another sequence I found interesting:

“Although concavity is entailed by the psychophysics of quantitative dimensions, it often has been cited as evidence that people derive little or no psychological benefit from income beyond some threshold. Although this conclusion has been widely accepted in discussions of the relationship between life evaluation and gross domestic product (GDP) across nations (11–14), it is false, at least for this aspect of subjective well-being. In accordance with Weber’s Law, average national life evaluation is linear when appropriately plotted against log GDP (15); a doubling of income provides similar increments of life evaluation for countries rich and poor.” [my emphasis, US]

September 14, 2010 Posted by | data, economics, Psychology, studies | 2 Comments


“Generally, the likelihood function is the joint density (or probability function for discrete variables), de…fined as a function of the unknown parameters…” (math stuff omitted)


“This estimator is rarely available, since the second derivatives of the log-likelihood function are often complicated nonlinear functions of the data whose exact expected values will be unknown. The estimator is
positive de…finite provided θ(0) is identi…ed, and therefore usually positive de…finite in fi…nite samples.”

I just got thinking. This makes perfect sense, I understand what’s being said. But how many assumptions about prior knowledge does it take to get a likelihood of 0,5 of someone understanding all of this? Regular reader ‘Plamus’ knows this stuff, I’m sure about that, but is he even in the majority or not of my readers? How many such sentences would I meet if I started reading a book on histology? (I know the answer to that and my respect for doctors went up after that.)

It’s not the marginal piece of information that’s a problem. It’s all the stuff you need to know and remember in order to understand the marginal piece of information.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | statistics | 7 Comments

The Devil’s Dictionary II

Second – and likely last installment – in the series, here’s the first. If you decide not to read the book, it’s not my fault. (‘Info’ can skip this post as well if he likes… – and so can everybody else; but remember that there’s no need to skip it just because you’re uncertain if you’ll like the post. On my blog, I have recently implemented this really fair and good policy that you get all the money back if you’re unsatisfied with what you’ve read. I have to agree that the 50 percent off policy probably was a bit of a rip-off). Anyway, selected quotes (d-e):

1) “DAWN, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it.”

2) “DECIDE, v.i. To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences over another set.” …

3) “DEFAME, v.t. To lie about another. To tell the truth about another.”

4) “DELUSION, n. The father of a most respectable family, comprising Enthusiasm, Affection, Self-denial, Faith, Hope, Charity and many other goodly sons and daughters.” …

5) “DESTINY, n. A tyrant’s authority for crime and fool’s excuse for failure.”

6) “DIAGNOSIS, n. A physician’s forecast of the disease by the patient’s pulse and purse.”

7) “DISCUSSION, n. A method of confirming others in their errors.”

8 ) “EAT, v.i. To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation, and deglutition.

“I was in the drawing-room, enjoying my dinner,” said Brillat-Savarin, beginning an anecdote. “What!” interrupted Rochebriant; “eating dinner in a drawing-room?” “I must beg you to observe, monsieur,” explained the great gastronome, “that I did not say I was eating my dinner, but enjoying it. I had dined an hour before.” (sometimes the entries/’explanations’ are written in a deliberately abstruse style, but in my opinion this but adds to the reading experience)

9) “ECCENTRICITY, n. A method of distinction so cheap that fools employ it to accentuate their incapacity.”

10) “ECONOMY, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.”

11) “EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.”

12) “EGOTIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.” …

13) “ELOQUENCE, n. The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white.”

14) “EMOTION, n. A prostrating disease caused by a determination of the heart to the head. It is sometimes accompanied by a copious discharge of hydrated chloride of sodium from the eyes.”

15) “ENCOMIAST, n. A special (but not particular) kind of liar.”

16) “EPIGRAM, n. A short, sharp saying in prose or verse, frequently characterize by acidity or acerbity and sometimes by wisdom. Following are some of the more notable epigrams of the learned and ingenious Dr. Jamrach Holobom:

We know better the needs of ourselves than of others. To
serve oneself is economy of administration.

In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a
nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal

There are three sexes; males, females and girls.

Beauty in women and distinction in men are alike in this:
they seem to be the unthinking a kind of credibility.

Women in love are less ashamed than men. They have less to be
ashamed of.

While your friend holds you affectionately by both your hands
you are safe, for you can watch both his.”

17) “ESOTERIC, adj. Very particularly abstruse and consummately occult. The ancient philosophies were of two kinds, — exoteric, those that the philosophers themselves could partly understand, and esoteric, those that nobody could understand. It is the latter that have most profoundly affected modern thought and found greatest acceptance in our time.”

18) “ETHNOLOGY, n. The science that treats of the various tribes of Man, as robbers, thieves, swindlers, dunces, lunatics, idiots and ethnologists.”

19) “EXCEPTION, n. A thing which takes the liberty to differ from other things of its class, as an honest man, a truthful woman, etc. “The exception proves the rule” is an expression constantly upon the lips of the ignorant, who parrot it from one another with never a thought of its absurdity. In the Latin, “_Exceptio probat regulam_” means that the exception _tests_ the rule, puts it to the proof, not _confirms_ it. The malefactor who drew the meaning from this excellent dictum and substituted a contrary one of his own exerted an evil power which appears to be immortal.”

20) “EXPOSTULATION, n. One of the many methods by which fools prefer to lose their friends.”

September 12, 2010 Posted by | books, quotes | Leave a comment

The Devil’s Dictionary

I’ve quoted from it before, but although I recommended the book at that point, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve felt that I really should quote a lot more of that stuff. I’ll take this post and at least one more, then I’ll reevaluate. I’ll start with A-C:

1) “ACHIEVEMENT, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.”

2) “ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous.”

3) “ALLIANCE, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.”

4) “ALONE, adj. In bad company.”

5) “BAROMETER, n. An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of weather we are having.”

6) “BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters.” …

7) “BORE, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.”

8 ) “BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other.”

9) “BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.”

10) “CERBERUS, n. The watch-dog of Hades, whose duty it was to guard the entrance — against whom or what does not clearly appear; everybody, sooner or later, had to go there, and nobody wanted to carry off the entrance. Cerberus is known to have had three heads, and some of the poets have credited him with as many as a hundred. Professor Graybill, whose clerky erudition and profound knowledge of Greek give his opinion great weight, has averaged all the estimates, and makes the number twenty-seven — a judgment that would be entirely conclusive if Professor Graybill had known (a) something about dogs, and (b) something about arithmetic.”

11) “CIRCUS, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.” [this ‘angle’ is quite similar to that of Richard Adams’ books, which I love (at least the ones I’ve read)].

12) “CLAIRVOYANT, n. A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron, namely, that he is a blockhead.”

13) “COMFORT, n. A state of mind produced by contemplation of a neighbor’s uneasiness.”

14) “COMPROMISE, n. Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due.”

15) “CONFIDANT, CONFIDANTE, n. One entrusted by A with the secrets of B, confided by him to C.”

16) “CONVERSATION, n. A fair to the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor.”

17) “CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

18) “CRITIC, n. A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him.”

19) “CUI BONO? [Latin] What good would that do me?”

A lot of this is just pure gold, I love that book! Read it!

September 11, 2010 Posted by | books, quotes | 2 Comments

Bent Larsen has died!

I just learned this, horrible news!

Here’s a chessbase article in English about the greatest Danish chess player that has ever lived. Here’s an article by Thomas Hauge Vestergård of the Danish Chess Federation, in Danish. Here’s google. Here’s his wikipedia article. One excerpt from that article: “Larsen defeated the seven World Champions who held the title from 1948 to 1985. He won games against Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, and Anatoly Karpov” – he’s the best we’ve had, he’s likely the best we’ll ever get.

It’s not been a month since I read his latest article in Skakbladet. Now he’s gone. We all knew he wasn’t in all that good health, sure, but this kind of stuff still almost always comes as a surprise. This book will be on my wish list for Christmas this year.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | Chess | Leave a comment

Social norms

SMBC. In a lot of cases, I believe that person A is much more likely to ‘accept’ that person B has different preferences if person B tries to hide the preference difference behind an ability difference. Preference compatibility is often an important component of lasting non-family-related social ties, so the ‘accept’ in question is by no means irrelevant. I believe preference compatibility is more important than ability homogeneity in most social contexts, which probably is part of the explanation for this phenomenon.

Another funny thing is that it’s also often considered more polite to state that you ‘don’t have time’ to do X than it is to state that you don’t want to do X, even if the outcome is very often identical, as the ‘don’t have time’-state is most of the cases where the excuse is employed a permanent state, rather than a transitory one.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | random stuff | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Somalia. An excerpt:

“In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa noted that many ships from the Kingdom of Cambaya in modern-day India sailed to Mogadishu with cloth and spices, for which they in return received gold, wax and ivory. Barbosa also highlighted the abundance of meat, wheat, barley, horses, and fruit on the coastal markets, which generated enormous wealth for the merchants.[36] Mogadishu, the center of a thriving textile industry known as toob benadir (specialized for the markets in Egypt, among other places[37]), together with Merca and Barawa, also served as a transit stop for Swahili merchants from Mombasa and Malindi and for the gold trade from Kilwa.[38] Jewish merchants from the Hormuz brought their Indian textile and fruit to the Somali coast in exchange for grain and wood.[39]

Trading relations were established with Malacca in the 15th century,[40] with cloth, ambergris and porcelain being the main commodities of the trade.[41] Giraffes, zebras and incense were exported to the Ming Empire of China, which established Somali merchants as leaders in the commerce between the Asia and Africa[42] and influenced the Chinese language with the Somali language in the process. Hindu merchants from Surat and Southeast African merchants from Pate, seeking to bypass both the Portuguese blockade and Omani meddling, used the Somali ports of Merca and Barawa (which were out of the two powers’ jurisdiction) to conduct their trade in safety and without interference.”

Here’s some more recent stuff:

a) “According to a 2005 World Health Organization estimate, about 97.9% of Somalia’s women and girls have undergone female circumcision” [I much prefer the term ‘female genital mutilation’, US]
b) “The Central Bank of Somalia indicates that the country’s GDP per capita is $333” … “About 43% of the population live on less than 1 US dollar a day”
c) “Owing to a lack of confidence in the local currency, the US dollar is widely accepted as a medium of exchange alongside the Somali shilling”
d) “The country’s population is expanding at a growth rate of 2.809% per annum and a birth rate of 43.33 births/1,000 people.[2] Most local residents are young, with a median age of 17.6 years; about 45% of the population is between the ages of 0–14 years, 52.5% is between the ages of 15–64 years, and only 2.5% is 65 years of age or older.”

Not once do the words “basket case” appear in the article.

2) Lagrange multipliers. All econ guys reading along already know this stuff, but to all you other guys: This is some of the stuff students of economics learn (early on, in the mandatory courses of the BA-part of the econ education). Stuff like this and this is also likely to come up at some point, though not everyone will have courses about these things. Some students here choose to work with something like this instead, it is a ‘School of Economics and Management’ after all. I often get confused as to how much stuff you guys know, I only just now figured out that William perhaps had no clue what I meant when I stated in a previous comment that “there’s likely a huge sigma playing in the background”. Economists and statisticians use a lower case sigma to denote the standard deviation of a statistical distribution. So: “there’s likely a huge sigma playing in the background” = ‘my weight likely varies a lot over time’.

3) History of the alphabet.

4) Age of Discovery. I have no clue why this is not a featured article.

5) Star. I’ve linked to the article about the Sun before, but the scope of this article is a little different, even if the Sun is naturally often mentioned in the article in a variety of contexts.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | astronomy, demographics, Geography, history, mathematics, wikipedia | Leave a comment

The average US female weighs more than I do

I had no idea it was that bad. Here’s the link.

“Measured average height, weight, and waist circumference for adults ages 20 years and over

* Men:
Height (inches): 69.4 (176,3 cm)
Weight (pounds): 194.7 (88,5 kg)
Waist circumference (inches): 39.7 (100,8 cm)

* Women:
Height (inches): 63.8 (162,1 cm)
Weight (pounds): 164.7 (74,9 kg)
Waist circumference (inches): 37.0 (94 cm)”

The numbers are from 2003-2006, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t gone down during the time that has passed. In case you were wondering, I’m at about 73-74 kg most of the time, so there’s not much of a difference. But still!

Danish females weighed an average of 68,0 kg in 2005, whereas the male average was 83,1 kg (the link has a lot more). The Danish females gained 5,8 kg’s on average from 1987 to 2005, and if that trend has continued since then, they are at 69,6 kg now – not that far behind.

Yes, I know there are significant regional differences in the US, for more on that aspect you can go here.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | data, demographics, health | 3 Comments

Nogle tal

Alt sammen meget quick-and-dirty men antageligt bedre end ingenting. Alle tal fra statistikbankens forbrugsdatabase fra Indkomst, forbrug og priser sektionen.


Det første af de to tal herunder er data fra 1990, det andet er fra 2010, udvalgte tal fra Statistikbanken. “.. angiver at observationen mangler, er diskretioneret eller er for usikker til at kunne angives.”

Procent af familier i Danmark som ejer…

Tørretumbler: 24, 53
Vaskemaskine: 70, 82
Opvaskemaskine: 29, 69
Mikrobølgeovn: 17, 76
Videokamera: .., 32
Mobiltelefon : .., 97
Stationær computer: .., 53
Bærbar computer: .., 72


Husstandenes årlige forbrug efter husstandsgrupper, forbrugsart og tid. Alle husstandstyper.

“Data indsamles over 3 år og omregnes til det midterste. Årligt udskiftes 1/3 af husstandene. Sammenligning bør derfor ske mindst 3 år tilbage. Der er små ændringer i den præcise afgrænsning af forbrugsarterne i de forskellige år. Forbruget er inkl. moms mv.”

184 925,7 kr. (1993:1995)
308 032,9 kr. (2006:2008)

22 325,4 kr. (1993:1995)
31 164,9 kr. (2006:2008)

Fødevares andel af det samlede forbrug var 12,1 % i 1993:1995, 10,1 % i 2006:2008.

Hvad så hvis vi ser på forskellige indkomstgrupperinger, eksempelvis lavindkomstgruppen vs højindkomstgruppen?

Husstande med indkomst under 150.000 kr.*:
1993:1995: 97 579,7,
2006:2008: 136 709,1
1993:1995: 11 654,5
2006:2008: 14 165,6

Husstande med indkomst på 800.000 kr. og derover:
1993:1995: 368 082,1
2006:2008: 508 095,8
1993:1995: 38 181,3
2006:2008: 48 044,9

(*bemærk at sammenligningen ikke er helt uproblematisk, fordi tallene er opgjort i løbende priser. Realindkomsten for husstande med en indkomst under 150.000 kr./år er lavere for 2006:2008-gruppen end den var for 1993:1995-gruppen. Vi sammenligner en fattig gruppe på tidspunkt t med en lidt fattigere gruppe på tidspunkt t+1. Lignende forbehold bør tages i relation til højindkomstgruppen, samt i øvrigt for forbrugstallene gengivet herunder i posten, der heller ikke direkte kan tolkes som et udtryk for udviklingen i det reale forbrug af disse goder. Indvendingen betyder selvfølgelig også, at man ikke bare kan sammenligne de to samlede forbrugstal og så sige, at forbruget fra 1993-95 til 2006-08 er steget med X (60+?) % i perioden)

Udvikling i fødevares andel af det samlede forbrug for lavindkomstgruppen:
1993:1995: 11,9 %.
2006:2008: 10,4 %.

Udvikling i fødevares andel af det samlede forbrug for højindkomstgruppen:
1993:1995: 10,4 %.
2006:2008: 9,5 %.

Højindkomstgruppen bruger en mindre andel af den samlede indkomst på fødevarer end lavindkomstgruppen, og for begge grupper har posten udgjort en faldende andel af det samlede forbrug i perioden. Det gælder også hvis du medtager mellemliggende perioder; i 2001:2003 var tallene hhv. 11,7 % og 10,3 %. Selvom den absolutte forskel på forbrugskomponenten er markant (højindkomstgruppen bruger vel over 3 gange så mange penge på fødevarer som lavindkomstgruppen), er forskellen på hvor stor en andel af det samlede forbrug posten udgør begrænset.

3) Hvad med mere specifikke udgifter, så som udgifter til spiritus og cigaretter? (husk det nævnte forbehold herover, en stigning eller et fald i disse størrelser kan betyde en stigning eller et fald i forbruget af disse varer, eller det kan betyde et ændret forbrugsmønster, så folk køber flere/færre dyre/billigere varer. “Forbrug i kr. != forbrug af cigaretter/øl/genstande”)

Indkomst under 150.000 kr.:

1993:1995: 285,0
2006:2008: 300,3

1993:1995: 1.121,0
2006:2008: 1.093,6

1993:1995: 1.903,9
2006:2008: 1.456,6

Indkomst 800.000 kr. og derover:

1993:1995: 1.064,3
2006:2008: 1.012,3

1993:1995: 1.925,7
2006:2008: 1.093,7

1993:1995: 2.652,5
2006:2008: 3.033,2

Andel af samlet forbrug, lavindkomstgruppen:

1993:1995: 0,29 %
2006:2008: 0,22 %

1993:1995: 1,15 %
2006:2008: 0,8 %

1993:1995: 1,95 %
2006:2008: 1,07 %

Andel af samlet forbrug, højindkomstgruppen:

1993:1995: 0,29 % (nej, det er ikke en taste/kopieringsfejl, lavindkomstgruppen og højindkomstgruppen forbrugte ned til 3. decimal den samme andel af deres indkomst på spiritus i den periode)
2006:2008: 0,2 %

1993:1995: 0,52 %
2006:2008: 0,22 %

1993:1995: 0,72 %
2006:2008: 0,6 %

Indkomstandelen de to grupper bruger på spiritus er næsten ens. Lavindkomstgruppen bruger relativt flere penge på øl, og den relative forskel er så stor, at den absolutte forbrugskomponent er næsten ens for de to grupper i 2006:2008-perioden, på trods af at højindkomstgruppens middelindkomst er over 3,5 gange så stor som lavindkomstgruppens. Højindkomstgruppen bruger flere penge på cigaretter end lavindkomstgruppen, men lavindkomstgruppen bruger en større andel af deres indkomst på dette gode. Nu var jeg doven, så jeg medtog ikke vin, men I kan selv slå tallene op, hvis det har Jeres interesse. Tror selv at højindkomstgruppen bruger både flere penge og en relativt større andel af indkomsten på dette gode, men det er bare et gæt. Hvordan forbruget har udviklet sig over tid aner jeg ikke.

Man hører somme tider et argument som går noget i retning af, at fordi fattige bruger relativt flere penge på cigaretter og øl end højindkomstgruppen, så er det deres egen skyld, at de er fattige. Men selvom de fattige bruger en relativt større andel af deres indkomst på disse ting, så er en af forklaringerne herpå altså, at de har en ret lav indkomst; højindkomstgruppen bruger over dobbelt så mange penge på cigaretter som lavindkomstgruppen og vel over 3 gange så mange penge på spiritus. Om de så også drikker flere genstande og/eller ryger mere kan vi ikke sige med sikkerhed på baggrund af disse tal. Indkomsten isoleret set er ikke den eneste forklaring, men den spøger altid lidt i baggrunden, når jeg hører den slags argumenter – og bemærk gerne i den sammenhæng, at jeg ikke personligt har noget i klemme, jeg tilhører lavindkomstgruppen men har aldrig røget en cigaret og drikker langt, langt mindre end gennemsnittet. Bemærk i øvrigt også at gennemsnitsandelen kan dække over en markant variation; hvis halvdelen af lavindkomstgruppen ikke ryger, er byrden for rygerne i gennemsnit over 2 procent af det samlede forbrug, svarende til en femtedel af fødevarebudgettet. Og hvad sker der, hvis nu hver femte (stor)ryger står for halvdelen af forbruget? En væsentlig ting at have med er det forhold, at det at lavindkomstgruppen bruger færre penge på cigaretter kan være et udtryk for, at der er færre rygere i denne gruppe end der har været, snarere end at det er blevet billigere at være ryger, en anden semi-plausibel forsimplet udbud/efterspørgsel-forklaring på udviklingen (se også materialet linket herunder). Måske er en af forklaringerne på udviklingen endog tværtimod at det blevet dyrere at være ryger nu end det har været, pga. skatter og afgifter, og dette har haft som konsekvens at mange folk i lavindkomstgruppen ikke længere har råd til cigaretterne.

Her kan du læse en tidligere post som behandler nogle relaterede forhold. Du kan også med fordel (/gen)læse denne post; ud fra den ville man, såfremt man benytter uddannelseslængde som en mere eller mindre valid proxy for forventet husstandsindkomst, alt andet lige forvente at højindkomstgruppen drikker mere end lavindkomstgruppen. Selvfølgelig gør det forhold, at de to grupper ikke drikker det samme sådanne sammenligninger meget vanskeligere end de ellers ville være.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | økonomi, data, Sundhed | 7 Comments


1) “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” (Oscar Wilde)

2) “Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him.” (Arthur Conan Doyle, THotB) – Evil indeed, or very lonely indeed.

3) “No spells are much good. It takes three months to commit even a simple one to memory, and then once you’ve used it, pouf! it’s gone. That’s what’s so stupid about the whole magic thing, you know. You spend twenty years learning the spell that makes nude virgins appear in your bedroom, and then you’re so poisoned by quicksilver fumes and half-blind from reading old grimoires that you can’t remember what happens next.” (Rincewind, from Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic which I recently read). You can apply this quote to a variety of other areas as well, this is not (/ought not be) just a quote about magic.

4) “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.” (George Bernard Shaw – after I hit ‘publish’ I started to wonder if I’ve posted this one before? I think the answer is probably yes. If so, no harm done, it’s a good quote, though I so far have tried not to repeat myself post the same quote more than once. If you want to check if I’ve posted it before yourself, you can read all my previous quotes-posts by clicking this link. Or you can just use the search bar. The latter is probably a lot faster.

5) “Nothing is so great an instance of ill manners as flattery. If you flatter all the company, you please none; if you flatter only one or two, you affront the rest.” (Jonathan Swift)

6) “The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.” (-ll-)

7) “Pride and Vanity have built more Hospitals than all the Virtues together.” (Bernard Mandeville)

8. “Let’s consider what an economist would do if he wanted to study horses. […] What would he do? He’d go to his study and think, ‘What would I do if I were a horse?’ And he’d come up with the conclusion that he’d maximize his utility.” (Ronald Coase, quoting Ely Devons; quote found here)

September 5, 2010 Posted by | quotes | 2 Comments

Education, employment and how we think of other people

Blatant simplifications, generalizations ect, but…

According to X, humans are…

Economists: Rational agents, utility maximizers.
Doctors: Mortals.
Psychologists: Troubled.
Astrophysicists: Dust specks.
Garbage men: Messy.
Sociologists: Social animals.
Social workers: Victims.
(cultural) Anthropologists: Formed by the culture of the society they inhabit.
Biologists: Monkeys with a large brain.
DAs: Liars, criminals.
Marketeers: Morons.
TV-journalists: Morons.
Politicians: Morons.

Or perhaps it should have been: ‘According to people who are not X, people who are members of group X think that other people are…’?

A little more seriously: Our outlook on a lot of things depend a great deal on stuff we aren’t really aware of having a large influence, and don’t think much about. ‘Background stuff’, like education, upbringing, social relations. Most people work primarily with people who are in many respects quite similar to themselves, so they probably never truly realize how much of their world view is at least in part a result of them never interacting with people who are very different.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | random stuff | 6 Comments