Monthly Archives: February 2012

[TED Air] I like this TED talk. Paddy Ashdown: The global power shift TED Air (

[TED Air] I like this TED talk. Jack Horner: Shape-shifting dinosaurs TED Air (

isohyet — rainfall and survival and good news

Isohyet- line on a map indicating rainfall patterns.

Below the 100-400mm isohyet land becomes uninhabitable.

11 african countries sign the great green wall initiative, a 15km wide 7000 km long green belt to stop the desert.

Arab Defense spending

German “tiger” attack helicopters to have combat debut in afghanistan this year

Saudis ordered $30bn of F-15s in december.

Oman ordered 12 F-16c/d block 50 falcon fighters on 14 december.

UAE ordered THAAD ballistic missile shield, first order outside the US.

Arabian 2012 defense procurement saudi 11.3, iran 6, israel 3.7, UAE 3 (bn euros)

Almost half of Saudia Arabia’s 26 million are under age 20.

importance of cities, and pedestrians

From the Monocle article

21st century economy is city-driven, but political power is based on the 19-20th century model of the nation-state.

Cities, not nations, are the community of the 21st century.

% of world pop living in cities 1800–3%, 1950–30%, 2012–50% or more.

18% of global population generate 66% of global economic activity and 85% of scientific/technical innovation– city dwellers

More people are killed by cars than by HIV, tb, or malaria.

97k pedestrians use main street NYC each day, and have 30% of the street space. 56k cars take the other 70%. Flushing main street

45% of trips in Chennai, India, are on foot or bike, yet attract only 3% of infrastructure spending

vnote to text converter

I sometimes want the vnotes from my Androd Galaxy on my laptop. The file transfer is trivial, but the notes are sent in vnote 1.1 format.

I only want the note text, so I need to strip away the meta-info. Also, the text contains the unicode control characters =0A and =0D. I prefer to have line feeds.

The following BASH pipeline does the job:

grep ‘BODY’ $1 | awk -F: ‘{$1=””;print $0}’ | sed -e ‘s/=0D//g’ -e ‘s/=0A/\n/g’

where the $1 in the grep command refers to the vnote I want to extract.

I save the script in a file ( and make it executable.

Results are written to the command line.

Principles of magic

Teller tells some secrets to smithsonian

  1. Pattern recognition (establish a pattern)
  2. Make the secret more trouble than the trick is worth
  3. Laughter stops critical thinking
  4. Keep the trick outside the frame
  5. Combine two tricks (or a second trick which “proves” the first)
  6. Nothing fools you better than a lie you tell yourself
  7. A choice implies that you have acted freely (think forced choice)

Combined into one trick:

THE EFFECT I cut a deck of cards a couple of times, and you glimpse flashes of several different cards. I turn the cards facedown and invite you to choose one, memorize it and return it. Now I ask you to name your card. You say (for example), “The queen of hearts.” I take the deck in my mouth, bite down and groan and wiggle to suggest that your card is going down my throat, through my intestines, into my bloodstream and finally into my right foot. I lift that foot and invite you to pull off my shoe and look inside. You find the queen of hearts. You’re amazed. If you happen to pick up the deck later, you’ll find it’s missing the queen of hearts.

THE SECRET(S) First, the preparation: I slip a queen of hearts in my right shoe, an ace of spades in my left and a three of clubs in my wallet. Then I manufacture an entire deck out of duplicates of those three cards. That takes 18 decks, which is costly and tedious (No. 2—More trouble than it’s worth). When I cut the cards, I let you glimpse a few different faces. You conclude the deck contains 52 different cards (No. 1—Pattern recognition). You think you’ve made a choice, just as when you choose between two candidates preselected by entrenched political parties (No. 7—Choice is not freedom). Now I wiggle the card to my shoe (No. 3—If you’re laughing…). When I lift whichever foot has your card, or invite you to take my wallet from my back pocket, I turn away (No. 4—Outside the frame) and swap the deck for a normal one from which I’d removed all three possible selections (No. 5—Combine two tricks). Then I set the deck down to tempt you to examine it later and notice your card missing (No. 6—The lie you tell yourself).

More investment rules

1. Believe in history
“All bubbles break; all investment frenzies pass. The market is gloriously inefficient and wanders far from fair price, but eventually, after breaking your heart and your patience … it will go back to fair value. Your task is to survive until that happens.”

2. ‘Neither a lender nor a borrower be’
“Leverage reduces the investor’s critical asset: patience. It encourages financial aggressiveness, recklessness and greed.”

3. Don’t put all of your treasure in one boat
“The more investments you have and the more different they are, the more likely you are to survive those critical periods when your big bets move against you.”

4. Be patient and focus on the long term
“Wait for the good cards this will be your margin of safety.”

5. Recognize your advantages over the professionals
“The individual is far better positioned to wait patiently for the right pitch while paying no regard to what others are doing.”

6. Try to contain natural optimism
“Optimism is a lousy investment strategy”

7. On rare occasions, try hard to be brave
“If the numbers tell you it’s a real outlier of a mispriced market, grit your teeth and go for it.”

8. Resist the crowd; cherish numbers only
“Ignore especially the short-term news. The ebb and flow of economic and political news is irrelevant. Do your own simple measurements of value or find a reliable source.”

9. In the end it’s quite simple. really
“[GMO] estimates are not about nuances or Ph.D.s. They are about ignoring the crowd, working out simple ratios and being patient.”

10. ‘This above all: To thine own self be true’
“It is utterly imperative that you know your limitations as well as your strengths and weaknesses. You must know your pain and patience thresholds accurately and not play over your head. If you cannot resist temptation, you absolutely must not manage your own money.”

The Caging of America

By Adam Gopnik, in the Jan 30 2012 edition of the New Yorker.

Describes one of the United States’ current great crimes– that we have so many of our citizens in jail.

He opens with a reminder of the enveloping fog of “attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed” which characterizes jail life. Time becomes something which is done to you.

Mass incarceration today is as pervasive as slavery was in 1850, with more blacks currently in the grips of the criminal “justice” system than there were enslaved (I wonder if the figure is in absolute numbers or relative?), and more than were held in Stalin’s Gulag Achipelago. “Lockdown City” is the second largest in the States.

The rate of incarceration is accelerating. In 1980, it was 220/100,000 (0.2%). In 2010, it was 731/100,000 (0.7%). The money spent on prisons has increased at 6x the rate spent on higher education.

Prison rape has become expected and accepted, reminiscent of 18th century japery of men struggling on the gallows.

Why? How did we get this way? The Norther arguement claims it is BECAUSE of the bill of rights, which encodes proceedures but not principles.

accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life.

it would be better if

The criminal law should once again be more like the common law, with judges and juries not merely finding fact but making law on the basis of universal principles of fairness, circumstance, and seriousness, and crafting penalties to the exigencies of the crime.

Northern argument espoused by William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School, author of Collapse of American Criminal Justice” 2011.

the Southern argument claims it is racism.

Society has seen a massive drop (40%) in violent crime rates over the last 30 years, with no clear explination. Franklin E. Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe,” reports. But the additional drop in NYC seems to have come from the N.Y.P.D. not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened—“hot-spot policing.”

criminal activity seems like most other human choices—a question of contingent occasions and opportunity. Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes.

Thus the key to stopping crime is

Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.


one piece of radical common sense: since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime.

Changing habits

A habit is a learned response to a que which leads to a rewards. Que, action, reward.

Once the action is learned it becomes automatic. The reward is addictive. So the que triggers the action and it is near impossible to stop.

Awareness of this allows you to re-learn bad habits. You cannot (easily) change the que-reward, but you can change the action. You must identify the que and reward, then plot a new action. Ques are usually:
location, time, emotional state, other people, or preceeding action.

To identify the real que, keep a log of these five factors each time you feel the urge.

You also need to identify the real reward.

So one day, when I felt a cookie impulse, I went outside and took a walk instead. The next day, I went to the cafeteria and bought a coffee. The next, I bought an apple and ate it while chatting with friends. You get the idea. I wanted to test different theories regarding what reward I was really craving. Was it hunger? (In which case the apple should have worked.) Was it the desire for a quick burst of energy? (If so, the coffee should suffice.) Or, as turned out to be the answer, was it that after several hours spent focused on work, I wanted to socialize, to make sure I was up to speed on office gossip, and the cookie was just a convenient excuse? When I walked to a colleague’s desk and chatted for a few minutes, it turned out, my cookie urge was gone.

Likewise, to create a new habit, come up with a que – reward process