Monthly Archives: September 2011

I was right but he got the credit

Time to dig out my emails to my dad from last spring, claiming that Max was right. I should do econ columns.

Here is Umair Haque making my point. To be fair, he is more eloquent than I was, but to be fair, he has the incentive to put the time into making it eloquent.

Umair Haque rants

These are taken from his unofficial blog. The guy is in serious rant territory, but he is good at it

Everything below is a quote/copypaste from
Because the truly poisonous effect of industrial age institutions, by undercounting real costs, and overcounting real benefits, isn’t merely that they limit us to creating fake, thin artificial value and ponzi-like hollow “profit” today–but, more perniciously, that they shatter the incentives for great achievement tomorrow. They crumple the human spirit, smash the human psyche, dull the human brain, and toxify the human heart

Hence, here’s what a nation who wants to be tomorrow’s powerhouse of prosperity really needs: a 21st century plan to reboot industrial age institutions. To reimagine and rethink the clunking, belching contraptions known as “GDP”, “the corporation”, “investment banks”, “credit ratings”, “jobs”, “government”, and more. To reimagine them as eudaimonic levers–tools that can amplify not the just “industrial output” of nations, but which can ignite and spark the highest human potential; levers that can raise people not merely into lowest-common-denominator faux-designer Jersey Shore material plenitude–but into meaningfully well lived lives. At it’s worthiest, an economy is an engine not merely for “enrichment”–but for human prosperity.

We’ve forgotten what the economy’s for. It’s not a lowest-common-denominator tool for vulgar material plenitude, or a brain-dead mechanism for mere financial “enrichment”–but, at it’s best, it’s highest, it’s most enlightened, it’s fundamentally worthiest, an economy must be an engine of human prosperity: a eudaimonic lever. A lever strong enough to raise human potential to unseen–and perhaps even undreamt of–heights.

Here’s what all the above really says: far from a wishful ideal, eudaimonia’s a razor-sharp necessity. No society in which the returns to rent-seeking outweight those to creating, building, transforming, and bettering can prosper. No society in which people are treated as chattels to be bought and sold by and to the highest bidder can be said to meet any definition of human prosperity.

R Inferno

An advanced guide to the pitfalls of R programming, written in the style of Dante’s inferno. Available from

Also, a tutorial on package development
documentation with roxygen
Unit testing with testthat
R CMD check — automated checking


Modern pediatrics

The nature of disease is shifting. In the last century, it focused on diseases caused by agents (virus, bacteria, etc). The central question becomes preventing the spread of the organism.

Now the majority of disease is environmental. Pediatricians are facing an epidemic of asthma, obesity, endocrine disorders, formerly rare childhood cancers, …

So how should mathematical epidemiology respond?

Towards a new theory of statistics — narrative form

People work by narrative and analogy.

Can we use narrative form to model/predict/measure trends?

I saw an article today saying the US bought into the EU debt crisis situation as applying to the situation in the US. On a narrative level, this is true, both the US and Europe are reported as named entitites, both are facing debt crisis, so it is easy for the US to extrapolate the EU narrative to describe their condition. On a factual level, of course, the differences are huge. But who considers facts?

Towards a new theory of statistics — full data vs summary

Statistics started as the art of summarizing large amounts of data, with an additional goal of allowing comparisons between datasets.

Fischer– the ‘sufficient statistics’, often two numbers which, combined with an assumption, are sufficient to fully describe a dataset (i.e. assume normality and measure mean and variance).

Statistics as data compression.

The need to summarize is a concession to the structure of our minds. A computer, with a different structure, can easily hold millions of points in its working memory. ( like B.B: Mesquita’s use of game theory to predict negotiation outcomes).

How, then, should we do stats? In the end we DO need a summary, a conclusion.


Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?

Eben Bayer

His group uses mushroom mycelium to replace styrofoam packing materials. He can grow a custom-sized and fit packing block in 5 days. The technology is scaleable, robust, and runs on waste products.

Styrofoam and in fact all plastic is expensive, toxic, and does not decay. Mushroom based stuff has none of these flaws.

Natalie Jeremijenko: The art of the eco-mindshift

Natalie Jeremijenko

Prescribes small-scale actions which positively change or monitor the environment.

Tadpoles to monitor water quality, but take it to the next level– a tadpole walker, and the tadpole is named after the government official responsible for local water quality. You take your tadpole for a walk, your neighbors ask about it, everyone can monitor it…

The space in front of a fire hydrant is a no-parking space. So why not rip up the pavement and turn it into a mini-garden? If this were done for every fire hydrant in NY city area, it would trap enough of the runoff to filter almost all of the water which currently dumps toxins straight into the bay.



Two more non-inspiring TED talks on the way in. People spot a current trend and talk about it as though it was totally new and completely amazing, though it is nothing new at all. A surgeon/scientist uses an fMRI scanner to find evidence that brain areas which are associated with self-censoring (among many many many other functions) become less active when one is improvising, and that Brocca’s area becomes active when two musicians are communicating via music.

He is, in other words, taking a fancy expensive machine to produce evidence for what musicians have known and claimed for year. Where is the breakthrough?

And a girl whining that we put too much trust in experts, that our brans get all different when we listen to an authority figure. She spoke as though she was a beautiful woman, so I understand why people want to listen to her.