Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Prison = Detention for adults?

In Brazil now, prisoners can shorten their sentence by 4 days by reading a book and writing an essay about it. I like the idea but the parallels to high school (i.e. doing homework in detention) are eerie.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

wow wow wow

For those of you not familiar with TED talks (technology, entertainment and design) I would highly recommend either subscribing to them on itunes or checking out the website. The TED conference is put on by a non-profit several times a year all around the world. Leaders from various fields come and give 15-20 minute talks about a subject they're passionate about. I've probably listened to nearly a hundred at this point and there are many excellent ones - but tonight one in particular just blew me away. Jill Taylor, a neurobiologist, had a stroke 16 years ago. She had the opportunity to study her own brain as it was shutting down. Though she survived but it took her 8 years to fully recovery. Hearing her story is equally haunting and uplifting.


Perception, New Jersey and Wine

Great article in the new yorker this month about how in a blind taste test a panel of experts recently judged that a series of inexpensive wines from New Jersey were better than expensive wines from Bordeaux. Other blind taste tests have found similar negative correlations between enjoyment and price, on average people tend to enjoy expensive wines slightly less than cheaper ones. However the most interesting part of the article is about how the perception of wine quality is a big factor in the enjoyment of wine. If people expect they are getting an expensive bottle they will enjoy it more and if they expect a cheap bottle they will enjoy it less - even if its the same wine with two different labels! But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised people are paying big margins for fancy labels with little to no different in quality.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chinese mega-building

China is planning to build the world's tallest building... in 90 days.


I can't tell how serious this is, but I do like how all the pictures show this building as part of Chicago's skyline. I hope this isn't the same company that built all those high speed rail lines.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Now for something good from the Atlantic!

I feel bad about hating on the Atlantic in my last post so I'm gonna show some love here. There's a great article on how foreign guidebooks describe the US. Its always interesting to hear about what foreigners think of us and our customs because it provides a great perspective on both them and ourselves. In particular I like the part about sitting down at tables where others are eating - I can imagine if I tried it I'd get some interesting reactions!


Dear Atlantic I thought you were better than this...

In general I'm a fan of the Atlantic, their articles are quite often interesting and thought provoking and presented at a level that accessible to non-experts. But last week there was an article which commits the worst logical errors I've seen them make - correlation does not imply causation. In fact part of me thinks this article is a satire. The author argues that graduation rates would improve if more students take out debt. His whole argument is based on a study which found that 29% of students who take out loans drop out while 44% of students who don't take out loans drop out. But there are a thousand reasons why this might be the case! Making the leap to "students should take out more loans" is an outright logical fallacy! It's like saying people who drive luxury cars are rich so if you want to be rich buy a luxury car.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

At least our bailouts work...

Regardless of what you think about the politics of the 2008/2009 bailouts in the US, they worked. Or at least "worked" in the sense they stabilized the system and prevented a systemic collapse. Europe's approach to the banking bailouts has been so piecemeal that it fails to address the core issues - i.e. Spain, Greece and others are bankrupt. Pretending they're not and "lending" them more money is only going to make the problem worse. Good article from Bloomberg about why the most recent 100 billion euros won't accomplish anything.


I like Greg Weldon's solution to the problem - get Germany off the Euro. Everyone else wants to monetize their debt but the Germans are so afraid of hyperinflation that they refuse. Germany's economy is so big and so productive that the other countries can't compete while on a common currency. Kicking Greece out of the Euro, then Spain, than Italy would be far too disruptive for the European banking system. They have too much debt, the French mega-banks would be instantly insolvent if they got paid back in drachmas or lira. Something has to give, the French will never give up their sovereignty to the Germans (by choice), the Germans will never pay for Italian pensions and French health care. There is no tidy solution, its a question of which solution is the least messy.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

50% Increase in Chicago Murders

What is it about warm weather that makes people want to kill each other? I suspect the huge contrast between last years frequent blizzards and this years record warmth is largely to blame for such a drastic jump... though I'm not sure that makes me feel any better about it.



via Marginal Revoultion, "College is mostly about human capital, not signaling."


The author argues that the 3 big reasons we go to college is to build networks, motivation and gain perspective. I agree with a lot of his points but there is definitely a material difference between what a communications major and engineering major gets out of college. I suspect the people who will be the most valuable in terms of networking, motivation and perspective will likely be working pretty hard in their area of study. Overall I think he's overstating the value of the social / partying aspect - gotta say I wasn't surprised to learn author is a lifetime academic.

I don't say this a lot...

...but this is quite possibly the most idiotic article I've ever read. Or at least the most idiotic since the last time I went to foxnews.com


Thank you Mr. Farrell for making the world just a little bit dumber.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More on the Absurd

A lot of people look down upon theists for having such strong beliefs without any evidence. But what about atheists? Aren't atheists making a similar leap of faith without any evidence? Yes, we know a lot more about the universe than we did 4000 years ago, but we've barely scratched the surface. So much remains unknown. And how much remains unknowable? Uncertainty is all around us, we can choose to ignore it or at this blogger argues be liberated by its embrace:


The Opposite of Loneliness

I was in a pretty lousy mood Saturday night / Sunday morning. I couldn't sleep, I was stressing out about the upcoming week, my next apartment, my career, my family, my relationships - no matter how hard I tried I couldn't stay asleep. I tried all my usual distractions: music, fiction, dark chocolate, comedy, porn but nothing was working for me, I couldn't shut my brain off. After hours of alternating 30 minutes of sleep with 30 minutes of drowsy consciousness, I gave up and went to Chipotle for breakfast. While eating my burrito bowl I was browsing some articles on my phone and stumbled on this link titled The Opposite of Loneliness, written by Marina Keegan for Yale's commencement paper. Just days before she died in a car accident. It was one of the most depressing things I'd ever read. Yet somehow it almost instantly made me feel better. In many ways its quintessentially existentialist, like something out of a Camus novel. Its haunting to read some of her last thoughts:
"I plan on having the parties when I'm 30. I plan on having fun when I'm old." 
"We're so young... we have so much time." 
"We can't, we must not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it's all we have."
But at the same time, the cure for pride and fear its realizing that our existence is so delicate, so absurd. No amount of stressing out, wishing or praying is going to change the world. We need to get over our pride and our fear and do something about it. In Marina's words "Let's make something happen to this world."