Tuesday, December 29, 2009

how smart was issac newton?

Marginal Revolution asks what is the probability the person with the most chess aptitude in the world today actually knows how to play chess. The question is how much wasted potential there is out there because people with high aptitude never get the resources to take advantage of that aptitude.

I often think about this type of analysis when trying to figure out how smart Issac Newton was. Sure he had the most success of math as anyone of his day (by a bit, Leibniz discovered much of the same shortly after him), but he was only the best out of the very small set of people born who had access to the resources to become good at math. Let's say 100,000 at the most, or the top 0.001 percentile. Being in the 0.001 percentile these days means there are tens of thousands of people better than you at math in the world, and thus is probably not good enough to get you into a good graduate program in math these days.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Ethics of Killing Brussels Sprouts: And the Ethics of Climate Change

In Krugman's obituary for Paul Samuelson, he mentioned that one of his contributions is he clarified the idea of welfare for economists, and the common good. Economists have a very well defined notion of social welfare, that is entirely human centric, but at least it is clear and well defined.

I do concede that animals and plants must fit in there somewhere, but since I have yet to come across a good definition, I tend not to use use it.

This interesting nytimes article questions whether killing brussels sprouts is any better than killing a pig for food?

This is particularly relevant when it comes to the issue of climate change, since if we just consider the impact of humans, climate change has arguably negligible impact 0 +/- 2% of GDP say the best estimates (of course extreme events are possible). But the impact on plants and animals is tricky. Many animals will die, though plants on the whole stand to benefit. And was it wrong for say the mammals to kill the dinosaurs (as some theories suggest)?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Kindle DX Thoughts

Many have asked in various forums for thoughts on the Kindle. Here they are in one place. I mostly got the Kindle DX for work (to read Pdf's). For that, it is passably ok. I have been able to cut down on the stacks of printouts I normally carry around. It is nice for a student to e-mail me a document, and then I can just forward his e-mail to my kindle, and be able to access it just like that. It is annoying there is no folder system (though I wrote a perl script that fakes it reasonably well). Another feature that is useful for commutes is that it can read stuff aloud, which is useful to catch up on random papers, during my long commutes. But the main annoyance is that it is quite slow. Too slow to page quickly through and the keyboard is a bit too fiddly and search too slow. It comes up when trying to find a particular table in a paper, or for paging through the couple magazines I subscribe to that offer pdf versions.

I await new versions with hopefully better contrast, faster load times, touch screen (like the Sony version), and even color, and better keyboard.

It is still pretty great for its main purpose, which is reading novels. For the Kindle formatting books, the contrast is not a problem, the screen is definitely easier to read that a computer screen, and it is so nice to be able to impulse buy books, like iphone apps, and have them right away. Amazon claims that of books that have kindle versions, 40% of its sales are electronic, which I can believe. Formatting is still a bit off, and annoying you can't page through easily, but generally fine for just reading.

Oh, and battery life is awesome. It goes for weeks between charges.

Bottom line, I wouldn't get it yet, I'd wait for a newer version given its hefty price tag. But I have no regrets given it came out of my research budget.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Star Power in Copenhagen and Lots of Lines

Waited in line today 90 minutes in 0 degree C weather to get in for the UN COP\15 Climate Change Conference (people who hadn't registered yet apparently had to wait 5+ hours in the cold yesterday). Leaving tomorrow, which is good because I imagine the logistics will only get more hectic tomorrow. They apparently registered nearly 40,000 people for a confernce center that only holds 15,000.

In some ways, it is a shame I'm leaving, since the star power is starting to heat up today. Up until now, it was all very policy wonkish. (More substantive thoughts in my next post.) But today, after waiting in line to get in, I waited in more lines to see Arnold Schwarzeneger and now I'm seated in a CNN debate with Bjorn Lomborg, Kofi Annan, Thomas Friedman and Darryl Hannah (let's play the Sesame Street game: one of these things is not like the other, three of these things are Kinda the same).

I arrived too late for the Al Gore tickets, but might be able to see part of the opening ceremony for some of the more high powered guests (minsters only now though) the heads of state mostly arrive tomorrow or Thursday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Copenhagen: First Impressions

Just arrived on red-eye flight, straight to the COP15 conference. Impressed by Copenhagen's airport. Very nice, clean scandinvaian (ie Ikea-style) aesthetic. R- says "i always just think all the nordic countries are like one big ikea...organized, natural looking." Also impressed by how well organized they are for the conference. Special passport lines, lots of conference information booths, special free shuttle buses, nice graphic design of posters, free public transportation passes, free wifi at the conference center, lots of power plugs, impresively good and cheap conference food, even a specially designed iphone app to disseminate news, videos and meeting schedules, lots of stunts makes it a little silly -- WWF drawing cartoons and doing a skit with a giant baloon earth; people carrying around skis, a group in matching red suits. Lots of lines. Long security lines, but lots and lots of scanners unlike at airport.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion: me on NPR

I don't sound as awful as I feared, but I was still too nervous to get through the thing without getting stuck on words. If they had only taped the conversation I had with the other guest (David Biello) while we were waiting in the green room. I was fine there.

The Takeaway: Why It's Not Easy Being Green

The Takeaway is unfortunately one of the new format public radio shows that tapes things live, and doesn't edit out stutters and umm's, as is typical for NPR (technically also, the show is a PRI show, not an NPR show but close enough). The only consolation was that the hosts got stuck over a couple words too while I was there.