Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dragonball - Turtle Devastation Wave goes from fiction to fact

For those who thought the Turtle Devastation "special move" from the Dragonball series was just a harmless imagining think again. Japanese schoogirls have learned the technique and are putting its explosive awesomeness into effect.

"The Kamehameha is formed when cupped hands are drawn to the user's side and the ki is concentrated into a single point between the cupped hands (the hands must be very close or touching). The hands are then thrust forward to shoot out a streaming, powerful beam of energy. The blast can also be used, generally under extenuating circumstances, with just one arm or even the feet."


 

Book: The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism by Russell Roberts


If only there were more books like this and more well meaning folk like Russell Roberts. Russ is an economist with a strong free-market bent and The Choice is a salient reminder of the benefits of free trade and free markets. In this tale the ghost of David Ricardo (a smart looking economist who came up with the revolutionary concept of comparative advantage) returns to earth to knock a bit of common sense into Ed Johnson, the president of a television manufacturer who is about to head off to support a protectionist politician. Even though the book can get a bit heavy at times, it achieves it's objective admirably and is a must read for anybody interested or confused about the benefits of free trade. It should also be compulsory reading for all politicians.


****


"Where's the television factory?"
"You're looking at it"
"But the sign says 'Merck and Co, Inc, A Pharmaceutical Company. Doesn't that mean they make drugs?"
"Indeed they do, Ed. They send some of those drugs to Japan. In return, Japan sends televisions. There are two ways to make television - the direct way, and the roundabout way"
...

"As a businessman, you transformed the world. OK, you didn't cure cancer or invent the automobile. But you were part of a revolution that started with the printing press, went through the radio and then the television, and culminated in the computer and the Internet. That revolution closed a lot of factories along the way, just as trade did. When you opened factories in Illinois, other factories closed as you attracted workers and capital. When people dream of making a new product or making an old product better, they transform people's lives and they change the economic landscape."
...

"...members of Congress have other excuses to salvage their public image. They will tell you that free trade works fine 'in theory'. Or that free trade only works when the rest of the world follows free trade. These are rhetorical arguments to cover the smell of narrow self-interest."

David Ricardo

Friday, March 29, 2013

Poem: Álvaro de Campos (2 of 2)

We all have two lives:
The true one we dream in childhood
And continue to dream as adults in a misty substrate;
The false one we live among others,
The practical life, the useful life –
It ends up sticking us in a coffin.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely


"Predictably Irrational" is an insightful primer on the subject of seemingly irrational behaviour (behavioural economics), written by a key researcher in the field in a very friendly style.

While the subject of behavioural economics is in its infancy and it's breadth of usefulness remains in question, the book easily succeeds in giving the reader an appreciation of some of the factors that drive decision making beyond cold, hard, rational calculation.By understanding some of these systematic, pyschological aspects of decision making, the book enlightens the reader to how their decisions are being informed (and sometimes manipulated). In raising this awareness Ariely hopefully makes the reader into a better, more aware decision maker (although perhaps a little more paranoid!).

I have photocopied quite a few pages of this book and will present some of the findings at a later date. 

****

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poem snippet: Álvaro de Campos (1 of 2)

I’m nothing.
I’ll never be anything.
I can’t wish I were anything.
Even so, I have all the dreams of the world in me.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

First MOOC experiences: edX and Coursera

I have just completed a Coursera course on Philosophy run by the University of Edinburgh, and an edX course on statistics titled "Stat2.1x: Introduction to Statistics: Descriptive Statistics", which was run by Berkeley . Of the two platforms, edX (a collaboration between MIT, Harvard and Berkeley) appears to have the upper hand, but the margins are close. It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the structure of the statistics module more and the course professor, Anil Adhikari, cannot be praised highly enough for cutting through the statistical fog with crystal clear explanations. The tests and mid-term and final exams were also perfectly pitched. The downside is the range of course offerings is much smaller than Coursera, which is adding courses by the month. All in all, both are very good and are developing nicely.

In terms of time requirement, some of these courses can be very demanding if you have a full-time job. Because of the discipline required I'd recommend not choosing modules that you want to "know" but instead pick a module that you want to "learn". There is a subtle difference and thinking about this should help in selecting courses you are more likely to give a proper shot at completing.

 
Oh, MOOC by the way, stands for mass open on-line course. To give an idea of the "mass", the courses I signed up to had a collective intake of over 100k students.

Book: Help! by Oliver Burkeman


Oliver Burkeman writes a weekly self-help column for the Guardian and his book Help! is little more than a collection of these articles sorted into different categories. That's it. And it's excellent. The book's ambition is made clear by the sub-heading "How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done".

It gets a full five stars because it is a life changer. Prior to reading this book, I was planning to inject some order into my reading routine and read a classic, then an improving book, and then a non-fiction book along the 'armchair studying' lines. Well, Burkeman has done all the hard work for me and I feel his condensed digest of self-improving tips and tricks has done away with the need to spend any more time reading anything off the self-improving shelf, including magazine and blog articles in this arena. Indeed, I have even unsubscribed to Burkeman's column and while I may spend half an hour listening to a lecture on his new book, I will not be buying it. He's even done himself out of a customer: a true success! Already, without even enacting any of his tips, I have saved myself countless future hours.

As for the tips and tricks that he reports on, stay tuned. I will post more about these in future months, once my studies are out of the way.

*****

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Photo a Weekly Project: "Lonely" - A Lonely Hero


A Lonely Hero, originally uploaded by Riz Din.

Via Flickr:
Unknown by friends, despised by criminals, wanted by the law; it's the loneliest job in all of Gotham.

Search for the credit crisis culprit - we seek him here, we seek him there

In the Weekend FT, Gillian Tett reports on research showing that a great many folk who were at the heart of the sub-prime crisis weren't great, grand schemers but were just as blindsided as everyone else (well apart from the handful of folk described in Michael Lewis's "The Big Short", some of whom attended the conference mentioned below on fact finding missions).

"How Bankers Believed Their Own Hype"

"... last week three American economists at Princeton and Michigan issued some startling new research – and it should make us all pause for thought. For if you look at the personal financial decisions of the bankers involved in securitisation in that period – at the very heart of the credit bubble – it seems many believed their own hype. Many of them not only bought large quantities of housing stock at the worst possible moment (ie in 2005 and 2006), but also did so in some of the most “bubbly” markets, such as southern California. They then failed to sell those properties in time – and thus were left nursing losses after 2007. Or to put it another way, the bankers who were repackaging housing loans not only lived by the mortgage sword, but suffered under it too."

Book: Adapt - Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford


Tim Harford's book "Adapt" looks at the role of failure and adaptation in success, both at the corporate level and at the level of the individual.

I'm a big fan of Harford. He has an interesting BBC radio programme called More or Less, writes excellent everyday economics pieces for the Financial Times, and has given some great lectures which can be found on Youtube. Turning to the book, I initially felt a little let down due to some of the review quotes on the cover of the book which suggested that Adapt contained a great new theory and was "ground-breaking". It doesn't live up to the hyperbole in this respect but it is a very good book that highlights the important role of failure in the path to success and also discusses how to fail well. This is something we already know much about but Harford's torch of clarity lends a fresh, well researched perspective that makes the reader appreciate failure in a new light. All in all, very good.

**** 

Here are some key quotes from the book:



- The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg, a man who changed the world utterly, and produced the Guternberg bible in 1455. But the Gutenberg Bible was a ruinous project that put him out of business. 

- At the dawn of the automobile industry, two thousand firms were operating in the United States. Around 1 percent of them survived. …Today, 10 per cent of American companies disappear every year. What is striking about the market system is not how few failures there are, but how ubiquitous failure us even in the most vibrant growth industries.

- Why are there so many failures in a system that seems to be so economically successful overall? It is partly the difficulty of the task. Philip Tetlock showed that how hard it was for expert political and economic analysts to generate decent forecasts, and there is no reason to believe that it is any easier for marketers or product developers to strategists to predict the future. …In a market economy, there is usually only room for a few winners. Not everyone can be one of them.

- While trial and error is fundamental to the way that markets work, it makes for a challenging approach to life. Who wants to grope her way to a successful solution, with her repeated failures in full view of the world? Who wants to vote for a politician who takes that approach, or promote a middle man whose strategy seems to be to throw around ideas and see what works? …Margaret Thatcher famously declared, “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.” Tony Blair was proud of the fact that he didn’t have a reverse gear. Nobody would buy a car that didn’t turn or go backwards, so it is unclear why we would think of these are desirable qualities in Prime Ministers.
….But whether we like it or not, trial and error is a tremendously powerful process for solving problems in a complex world, while expert leadership is not.

- Poker players explained to me that there’s a particular moment at which players are extremely vulnerable to an emotional surge. It’s not when they’ve won a huge pot or when they’ve drawn a fantastic hand. It’s when they’ve just lost a lot of money through bad luck (a “bad beat”) or bad strategy. The loss can nudge the player into going ‘on tilt’ – making overly aggressive bets in an effort to win back what he wrongly feels is still his money.
Quoting Kahneman and Tversky: ‘…a person who has not made peace with his losses is likely to accept gambles that would be unacceptable to him otherwise.”

- On Deal or no Deal: Unlucky choosers stood out. They were extremely unlikely to accept an offer from the Banker. Why? Because if they did, it would lock in their ‘mistake’. If they kept playing, there was a chance of some sort of redemption.

- The three essential steps (to successful adapting) are: to try new things, in the expectation that some will fail; to make failure survivable, because it will be common; and to make sure that you know when you’ve failed.


- As a Prussian general once put it, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” What matters is how quickly the leader is able to adapt.

- ... make failure survivable : create safe spaces for failure or move forward in small steps.  ..the trick here is finding the right scale in which to experiment: significant enough to make a difference, but not such a gamble that you’re ruined if it fails. And third, make sure you know when you’ve failed, or you will never learn. …this last one is especially difficult when it comes to adapting in our own lives.

- The best failures are the private ones that you commit in the confines of your room, alone, with no strangers watching. Private failures are great.

- Pluralism matters because life is not worth experiencing without new experiences – new people, new places, new challenges. But discipline matters too: we cannot simply treat life as a psychedelic trip through a random series of novel sensations. We must sometimes commit to what is working; to decide that the hobby we are pursuing is worth mastering; that it’s time to write that novel, or strive for that night-school degree, or maybe get married. Equally important: sometimes we need to make the opposite kind of commitment, and decide that the toxic job and the toxic boyfriend are simply not worth the amount of life they cost.

- It’s one thing to be committed; it’s another to trap ourselves unnecessarily.  
 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book: A Passage from Po Bronson's excellent "Bombardiers"




It was a filthy profession, but the money was addicting, and one addiction led to another, and they were all going to hell. Turner had gone to hell, and Mike McCafferey had gone to hell. Wes “Green Thumb” Griffin developed a wandering eye, while Antonia Zennario, who used to joke that “all investors are made from Adam’s rib,” lost her sense of humor, and then her smile, and then her job. Carol Manning miscarried. Coyote Jack began to stutter on his numbers and was moved into management. They had all gone to hell. Sid Geeder hated them all and missed them like crazy. The phone rang constantly and everyone suffered cauliflower ears, neck rashes, and cervical pain, and when the sun came up in the morning and they had already been at their desk two, three hours, they went to the 41st floor window and imagined what it would be like to have to ride a bus or find a parking place. The squawk-box cackled as traders in London and New York and Chicago bid up the long bond, then it quieted as the dust cleared and they settled in to wait for retail to continue the rally. Green monochrome monitors tinted everyone’s face a pasty color, and Lisa Lisa reached for her pancake of low-lustre, firming-action moisture cream. Sidney Geeder drank some coffee. Nickel Sansome massaged his scalp. Sue Marino flipped through a bridal magazine. 

When the sun didn’t come up and instead their tower was socked in by clouds and fog, the other world existed even less than usual; they could not see the streets below, or most of the shorter buildings, and they were one of the few spaceships in the sky. The next attack could come from anywhere. The economic forecasts were useless. The fundamentals were ignored. The Federal Reserve was unpredictable.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Superdry / JPY

I omitted to report earlier on my Superdry short trade, which died a miserable death. The stock did move in my favour initially but then reversed and moved massively against me. It returned to lower ground of course, but only after it had hunted out my stop-loss. Of course, it's nothing personal (!). On the upside, I did make a little out of the recent rally in USD/JPY, managing to ride on the coat-tails of the momentum of the funds. The sudden rush to safety following Cyprus has knocked me out of this trade as well, but I managed to lock in just enough to have me back at evens for the year.

Despite the common wisdom, I continue to believe trading currencies is safer than trading shares by a significant multiple.

Incomplete thoughts on the Cypriot bank raid

It may or may not go ahead, and as despicable and crude as it is, there is something about this cruelly novel idea, to simply raid the bank accounts for somewhere between 6 and 15 cents on the euro: a simple, clean money grab at the expense of savers. After all, that's where the money is.

What's to like? The plan is explicit and it clearly signals to the weary public that the government is aiming to shift the burden on those who were least implicated in the crises i.e. the savers. Compare this to the other smoke-and-mirrors approaches that governments and central banks have taken elsewhere: (i) raising taxes (ii) cutting spending (iii) printing money and inflating away debt (iv) killing growth expectations by spreading the pain as thinly, leading to real wage stagnation (v) allowing zombie institutions to exist. I appreciate it isn't one or the other, but all these other measures also shift the cost onto the innocents. It's just not quite as explicit as an outright money grab, but it's all much of a muchness at the end of the day.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book: The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee


The Tao of Jeet Kune Do is a fascinating and original book by Bruce Lee. It is compiled from his notes and essays, which were largely penned when Bruce was laid up in hospital for a six month stint, recovering from a back injury.

The book goes into the depths of effective fighting techniques and training which are interesting enough for a non martial-artist, but the real meat for the casual reader is in the philsophical gems scattered throughout the book. It is here that one may learn many lessons applicable to sports, strategies, trading and mastery in general.

****

I will post a collection of quotes sepearately. For now, enjoy some of the cool illustrations from the book:


 

Book: "The Man Who Ate Bluebottles: And Other Great British Eccentrics" by Catherine Caufield

It is unreasonable, I know, but I cannot forgive the fact that this book is decorated by a mish-mash of typefaces!

This book is wonderful. It provides colourful profiles of odd British characters through the ages in a celebration of eccentricity. With each biography spanning no more than a few pages, the broad coverage on shows works well to build the reader's sense of wonderment and appreciation for the folks who live their existense outside the norm.

Some wise commentary from the Introduction:

"On ideological grounds alone, eccentricity has had a number of eloquent supporters. John Stuart Mill, in his essay, On Liberty, argued that, for as long as mankind is imperfect, different opinions and varieties of character should be given free scope as experiments in living. Diversity is a pre-condition of evolution. Mill thought eccentricity desirable in an age of confirmity, simply as an example of freedom. "Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded....That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time."

...Ordinary people are expected to abide by the rules. Most, indeed, are happy to do so. As Mill says of such people, again in On Liberty, "I do not mean that they choose what is customary in preference to what suits their inclination. It does not occur to them to have an inclination, except what is customary."

Here is my list of favourite eccentrics from the book:

- Bauchamp Bagenal
- Osborne de Vere Beauclerk (12th Duke of St Albans)
- Henry Cope (the Green Man)
- James Curtis
- Daniel Dancer ("Dancer considered washing with soap and towels a waste of money. He would wait for a sunny day, scrub himself with sand at a neaby pond, and lie in the sand to dry.)
- Simeon Ellerton (merrily walked from Durham to London, often found walking carrying stones on his head because it was more comfortable this way)
- Benjamin O'Neil Stratford (6th Earl of Aldborough)
- Sir Tatton Sykes
- Sir Thomas Urquhart
- Herbert Spencer (philosopher)
- Martin Van Butchell
- Orde Wingate
- Alfred Daniel Wintle


****

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Batman: Black & White Motion Comics


Fans of the Dark Knight would do well to check out these short animated comics over at Youtube. They are really good and suprisingly have only had a handful of hits to date. Enjoy.




Saturday, March 16, 2013

Photo of the Week - "Kindred"


Kindred, originally uploaded by Riz Din.

Via Flickr:
A ninja family portrait.
Far right: Father
Middle: Son
Left: Adopted orphan (masked to protect identity - he is currently travelling the globe on a revenge mission)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky on learning to be alone

"... I think I’d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to be spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view."(source)

Stallone is writing Expendables 3

... he has just tweeted that Steven Seagal is a no and if we're lucky, Jackie Chan will be in on the action. Stallone is also scouting younger actors to join the mix (aged around 22-27). If the Expendables series succeeds in the transitioning in and out of key characters, we could have a long-running franchise on our hands.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Photo of the Week - "Juicy"


A juicy quote from Bruce Lee, originally uploaded by Riz Din.

Here is my juiciest snippet from "The Lost Interview" with Bruce Lee. The interview can be found on special edition DVD versions of Enter the Dragon.

"When I look around, I always learn something and that is to always be yourself, to have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Now that seems to me that that is the prevalant thing that is happening in Hong Kong. Like they always copy mannerism but they never start from the very root of (his) being, and that is "How can I be me?" ....most people tend to be blinded by it.
(switches to a clip of Enter the Dragon)
"It is like a finger pointing to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory."

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A new Hans Rosling talk on development. Reasons for optimism



hat-tip to my brother in law for pointing this wonderful video out

Photo of the Week - "Immense"


Immense effort, originally uploaded by Riz Din.
Immense efforts required. A good part of a man's "free" time can be spent trying to compensate for days spent sitting at desks.

True Geek vs Fashion Geek

"It's fashionable nowadays to call yourself a Geek- But when you come at the king, you best not miss."

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Sugar! The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data


A little bit of sugar reduction helps the (diabetes) medicine go down. 

Over at the New York Times, nutrition writer Mark Bittman has just reported on an extensive statistical study which suggests a stand-alone relationship between sugar and diabetes. The study is published in full on PLOS ONE. It is wide in scope and has been well-conducted, with one of the authors (Sanjay Basu) writing a nice supplementary blog piece on understanding the data, methods and findings. I view this kind of study as interesting because it isn't ground breaking but ground building. It's the type of work that helps steer our understanding toward somewhere new. 

From the abstract conclusion:

"No other food types yielded significant individual associations with diabetes prevalence after controlling for obesity and other confounders. The impact of sugar on diabetes was independent of sedentary behavior and alcohol use, and the effect was modified but not confounded by obesity or overweight. Duration and degree of sugar exposure correlated significantly with diabetes prevalence in a dose-dependent manner, while declines in sugar exposure correlated with significant subsequent declines in diabetes rates independently of other socioeconomic, dietary and obesity prevalence changes. Differences in sugar availability statistically explain variations in diabetes prevalence rates at a population level that are not explained by physical activity, overweight or obesity."


Adjusted association of sugar availability (kcal/person/day) with diabetes prevalence (% adults 20–79 years old). Regression line is adjusted for all control variables, including time-trends (period-effects)
On the extent of the effect, the authors write:

"a 150 kilocalories/person/day rise in sugar availability (one 12 oz. can of soft drink) was associated with a 1.1% rise in diabetes prevalence"

It's a shame about those really high 5-6 points on the chart that are clustered together just on the sugar reduction side of the scale. Nevertheless, an upward sloping line is evident.

On his blog, Sanjay Basu concludes:

"The bottom line is that this is one of several studies from independent scientific groups that have questioned the old mantra that “a calorie is a calorie”. Some calories may be more metabolically harmful than others, and sugar calories appear to have remarkably potent properties that make us concerned about their long-term metabolic effects. This study also suggests that obesity alone may not be the only issue in diabetes pathogenesis. The study was conducted to understand a statistical theory, using a statistical approach. It doesn’t say anything about any specific person’s diabetes risk or provide any kind of dietary advice. This data cannot distinguish between types of sugars (like high fructose corn syrup versus other types of sugars), nor does it establish more insight into the mechanisms that are at play, which need to be pieced together in laboratory and experimental research studies."