Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Denial isn't just a river in Egypt...

Apparently the PIIGS owe (Swiss) big pharma some $20 billion. For the past 3 years they've been issuing IOUs instead of paying cash.


Who else have they been not paying? And who do they think they are, writing all these IOUs, California?

Friday, February 24, 2012

And on a lighter note...

The top 5 regrets of the dying:


Some great lines throughout.
"Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it."
"Many developed illnesses related to the bitterness and resentment they carried."
"Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Private prisons

The Corrections Corporation of America is offering states an up front cash payment in exchange for privatizing their prisons for the next 20 years. The catch? States need to guarantee they're generating enough criminals to keep the prisons at 90% capacity... this has me worried.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Entrapment / At what point do we start creating terrorists?

News today that a man was arrested for trying to blow up the Capitol Building.


Apparently law enforcement "has been intimately involved" for some time now. Did we supply him with the inoperable vest? How far would he have gone on his own? This reminds me of the guy who thought he had left a bomb outside of Sluggers on a Friday night - but in reality undercover police had given him the fake bomb and arrested him soon after. Part of me worries that we are intentionally creating criminals - its certainly a good way to justify the hundreds of billions we're spending on "Homeland Security."

Great interview question

via Marginal Revolution, How much would it cost to build the death star?

I'm interviewing someone next week and will definitely be asking this question.

We're living through a golden age of behavioral research

An excellent article in NYT magazine titled How Companies Learn Your Secrets. Its all about how companies collect data on their customers, use that data to make predictions and profit from those predictions. Their example is a statistician working at Target but the same analysis is being used in every industry. One quote from the article is particularly enlightening:

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.
“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.
On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Identifying talent

Interesting blog post on wired about the difficulties of identifying talent in professional sports ex ante.


One quote in particular struck me:
we find no consistent statistical relationship between combine tests and professional football performance, with the notable exception of sprint tests for running backs.
It means everything surrounding the NFL draft is just for show. With the exception of how fast a running back can run they really have no idea how to test whether someone will be a good NFL player. How much of this applies to all careers though? How many times has a job candidate been hired because of great education/experience and been a complete bust? I wonder if anyone has done any studies on "how to identify talented and productive employees."

This sounds like reality TV

A professor at USC's business school followed two dozen business school graduates through their first few years working at investment banks in New York. I for one am not surprised at what she found:


I'm more surprised that only one-fifth of the bankers left after 4 years!

Scary chart about aging

From Marginal Revolution:


My first thought was "we shouldn't let old people play the lottery." My second thought was "dear god I never want to be old."

Friday, February 10, 2012

No strings attached

This latest announcement by the Greeks reeks of desperation, their police union threatened to arrest any EU or IMF officials. All because the EU wants austerity in exchange for more loans.


At this point it feels like a big game of chicken. Everyone knows Greece can't possibly pay back all of its debt, so the question is - how much are the Germans willing to pay to keep the EU intact? $100 billion? $500 billion? At what point do they say nein? The Greeks don't want austerity because they know there's a good chance they can get the money with no strings attached. But at what cost? Didn't we learn our lesson about angry Germans last century? Twice?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I shouldn't have bought all those car bombs and bmx bikes on my ski trip

Interesting op-ed in the NYT last weekend titled "Facebook Is Using You" about the potential dangers of our increasingly data driven world. More and more our purchases, Google searches and Facebook statuses impact not only the ads we see, but our ability to qualify a loan or get insurance. This data is really powerful which makes the potential for abuse high. If "they" can predict what we're going to do, how far are we from a big brother type of society? Although I don't necessarily agree with the author's "social implications" we do need to find some balance between privacy and the unrestrained use of data. One guy described in this article had his credit limit cut because "other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repaying history with American Express." Next time I'll be sure to pay for my guns, booze and strippers in cash.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

LCD Soundsystem is playing at my house

Since I heard 5 LCD Soundsystem songs at Blokes & Birds last Friday they've been stuck in my head. Its like coming home for dinner and discovering I only have fudge brownies. Awesome.

All My Friends
You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan,
and the next five years trying to be with your friends again.

You're talking 45 turns just as fast as you can,
yeah, I know it gets tired, but it's better when we pretend.

It comes apart,
the way it does in bad films.
Except in parts,
when the moral kicks in.
I Can Change
And love is a murderer, love is a murderer
But if she calls you tonight
Everything is all right
Yeah, we know
And love is a curse shoved in a hearse
Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry
And this is coming from me

But I can change, I can change, I can change, I can change
I can change, I can change, I can change
If it helps you fall in love
Yeah (Crass Version)
Everybody keeps on talking about it... nobody's getting it done
I'm tired, tired, tired now of listening, listening... knowing that the ship's gotta run

Freshmen year of college / Why I decided not to be a philosophy major

Great but brutally complicated summary of Hume's and Kant's views on causality. I remember when I used to eat this stuff up. It wasn't until my several failed attempts to read Phenomenology of Spirit that I gave up on being a philosophy major.


In conclusion:
Hume was correct, therefore, that the principle of the uniformity of nature governs all of our inductive causal inferences; and he was also correct that this principle is not and cannot be analytic a priori. What Hume did not see, from Kant's point of view, is that the merely comparative universality of inductive generalization can indeed be overcome by transforming initially merely subjective “empirical rules” into truly objective and necessary “universal laws” in accordance with synthetic but still a priori principles of the unity of nature in general.
...well duh! So yeah, economics was a good call.

Speaking of beauty

I love the title of this post "Big Butts and Breasts: What Sir-Mix-A-Lot Got Wrong About Beauty and Attraction."


When asked "are you a breast or butt guy?" he answers "abs." He also brings up a good question, "if I'm being socialized to a certain set of beauty norms, why do I recoil when I'm told my conception of beauty is 'wrong'?"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where will the jobs come from?

Since the industrial revolution we've faced this challenge every few generations. Technological progress makes many jobs obsolete and it makes people worry about what jobs will be available tomorrow. Marx first identified this problem with capitalism, later coined Creative Destruction by Schumpeter. Understandably the transition can be painful for many people but each time we have emerged a stronger and wealthier world. To some extent the government can help ease the transition through forms of social insurance but I believe the bigger problem is debt. When we (the western world) have a total debt 3 to 4 times our annual income it becomes very difficult to adapt to these shocks. We're stuck in our jobs because we're stuck in our debt and consequently we start to resist progress.But whether we welcome it or not, the world will change. I don't know what kind of jobs will be common 30 years from now but I believe many of them don't even exist today.

Here is one opinion of what the labor market will look like in the future:

To summarize, the best situation for the next couple of decades is "to be a hot engineer who can write well and get along with other people." Alex, I think you just described my perfect woman.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Raising French kids

Interesting article in the WSJ titled "Why French Parents Are Superior." I'm pretty terrified by the prospect of raising children - though in a lot of ways I'm looking forward to it. The philosophy here is one I certainly agree with - I want my kids to have all their needs met, just not all their desires. Getting what you want all the time practically guarantees unhappiness in the long run. I realized its very difficult to ignore a crying baby but its also important for kids not to learn to cry wolf. Often I wish my clients could learn the same lesson - if everything is an emergency then nothing is an emergency.


Sunday, February 5, 2012


Great performance by the Giants - though I suspect if the Pats had Gronkowski playing injury-free it would have been a very different games. But injuries are part of the game, if you're going to utilize one player a lot he's going to get hurt more often. Two of the Giants tight ends left the game with injuries.

I kind of consider the Bears my college football team and the Giants are my NFL team. Of course I'll always root for the Bears over the Giants, but I have to say the Patriots are damn fun to watch. Before that last Giants TD I was telling Michael that the Pats should let the Giants score and give the ball back to Brady... and that's exactly what they did! And it almost worked! They just play the game on so many different levels that I'll always be pleasantly surprised whenever watching them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Meditations on a sober month part 1

Now that I'm done with my sober month its time to reflect upon what I've learned. Thanks to Amanda I found out I'm not the only one who's had this idea:


For years I thought my lack of specific goals was a problem. I'd read through other people's bucket lists and look for inspiration for my own. But now I don't think life is about "checking things off my list," I don't ever want to feel like my life's work is done. I want to explore the world rather than subject it to my will.

Another thing I've been thinking a lot about is what I'm good (or improved) at and what I'm bad at. First the good. I'm generally optimistic about life, I can reflect on my past without regret. I used to try to forget who I was or where I came from, I hated pictures because they reminded me of the past. But now I've realized that was foolish, Past Paul is the one who got me here, I should be grateful and proud. And as a result I've gained an affinity for pictures - they're an homage to how I got to today.

More recently I've become better at not obsessing with staying busy and learning to say no. I learned years ago that I can't relax by being idle, watching a movie doesn't help me destress it just pauses my stress which then comes back as soon as its over. To truly destress I need to be physically or socially active, but I had taken it so far. When my schedule is over-booked everyday things like laundry, dishes or calling my family become additional sources of stress. Plus the more I try to do the less value I attach to each particular thing. Learning to say no has helped here, there's no reason for me to try to fit a workout, laundry and trivia into one weeknight. My friends won't abandon me if I can't make it out one Tuesday. Also this past month I've become a lot better at thinking introspectively. I've always had trouble articulating my thoughts verbally, writing has always been easier (the backspace button helps.) But over the past month I've been able to take a more objective view of my life, hence this post.

Now, what I'm bad at. Part of my month of drinking was about not doing the easy thing. Although I accomplished my goal, I don't think I did enough with my time. I certainly read, wrote and thought more, some of which was hard but nothing that I wasn't already accustomed to. February's theme needs to be more about going beyond my comfort zone. In some ways I need to become better at giving up control. I don't like crowds, I don't like airplanes, not because of the inherent risk but because I'm not controlling the risk. Yet if I only put myself in situations where I'm in control then nothing unexpected will happen. Often its the unexpected things that happen or people you meet that are the best. I also need to stop trying to hard to seek the approval of others. Not that I want others to hate me but on occasion it has stopped me from doing what I wanted to do or maintain relationships I didn't want to maintain. Some people won't like me, its a fact of life I don't need to change their minds or pretend that I like them. One last thing that I'm bad at (for now) is following through or following up. I've always been more of an idea person than a details person, in other words I'm good at starting and bad at finishing. But if I'm not going to finish why bother starting? And finally I'm bad at spending money. Not because I think I spend too much or too little but because for months I'll think its ridiculous to pay $8 for lunch but then be totally ok with dropping $2k in Vegas over a long weekend.

More to come.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hear! Hear!

I agree with this guy, it's very refreshing to hear someone say "I was wrong, I screwed up, I'm sorry."


Apparently Gingrich didn't even call Romney to congratulate him for winning Florida. If your ego can't handle losing, you're not ready to be president.

How Medicare drives the whole health care system

Interesting article from Slate about how changes in Medicare compensation have driven up the costs of health care for everyone else.


In summary Medicare significantly underpays hospitals for the cost of their services, thus hospitals need to charge a higher rate to private insurance companies and individuals so they can stay in business. So yeah its really just one giant hidden tax. I have no problem with wealth redistribution via taxation, just redistribution via hidden taxation.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

About that $200,000 you just spent...

Interesting op-ed about how colleges claim they don't want to cut costs because education quality will suffer - despite the fact they have no way of measuring the quality of the education they provide.


On a test of critical reasoning and logic skills, 36% of college students showed no significant improvement between their freshman and senior years. The value of education is very difficult to measure because there is a big upfront cost and gains spread out of the rest of year life. I worry schools are taking advantage of these uncertain payoffs - which I akso suspect people overestimate. Tuition has been rising very rapidly for the last 30 years, mostly to build new facilities and pay administrators. This rise in tuition has been fueled by an expanding student loan market that will lend almost any amount of money to anyone. Why? Because if you go bankrupt you still need to pay off your student loans. They'll even garnish your wages / social security to recover the balance. Credit cards, mortgages, auto loans etc will all go away student loans are treated the same way as child support payments. Unreal (thank you George Bush). In theory having a government policy "supporting" education is good thing but if the only result is higher college tuition are we really helping people get educated? Or are we just enriching administrators and the buyers of student loan securities?

I wonder if the placebo effect works for birth control pills?

If not then a lot of women might be in for a surprise. Apparently pfizer accidentally put sugar pills where birth control pills were supposed to go.