Friday, December 10, 2010

Is this irony or the most wrong-headed thing I've ever seen?

I'm not making any promises to resurrect this blog permanently, so don't hold your breath. I just had to bring this to your attention*.

To be fair, we've made scant progress in addressing the perennially high infant mortality rate and the back-breaking toil of ploughing the fields just to put food in my mouth is a bit of drag, so I suppose the author (artist?) might have a point.

But still.

Think about it.

From here.

* "You" being my loyal readership that comes here every day in the vain hope that I'll resume posting sometime.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Terminator's Grandad

It has been my view for some time that we are now living in the Science Fiction era. Not just reading Science Fiction or watching it in the movies, but actually living it.

Check this out. Wow, wow, wow!

HT: Michael Nielsen

Thursday, February 14, 2008

This one goes out to the one I love...

Happy Valentine's Day, Skinflint!
Another from bt3a.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Vampire Curve

When it comes to comments on YouTube videos, normally I'm with Randy Munroe. However, I enjoyed this comment on this short lecture about the Laffer curve:
"The Vampire Curve" -- an economic video for vampires desiring to figure out how much blood they can suck out of their victims without killing them or reducing tomorrow's blood supply.
Via Cafe Hayek.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Presumed consent - why the fuss?

If you don't want to donate, just carry one of these in your pocket.

From b3ta.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I'm buying more mirrors

According to Tim Harford:
...each extra 10 minutes a man spends in front of the mirror will raise his wages by 6 per cent.
Andy's conversation with his boss on Monday:
When I first joined this company, I spent five minutes per day in front the mirror. Now it's up to an hour and three quarters. Isn't it about time this was reflected in my compensation package.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It mocked me. It shouted at me. It told me I was not worthy. In short, it jilted me.

Via Boing Boing, I have just learned of a new art form. Go and read the Amazon reviews of the Bic ballpoint pen. Seriously. And milk too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Irrational voters

Comment of the week comes from Brad Hutchings on this post, after Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter is reviewed on Amazon by one of the book's protagonists:
So Bryan, did you invite this guy to the photo shoot for the paperback cover yet?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Can you spot the pun?

I'm off work just now and too ill to leave the house. So, to fill time, I've finally got round to learning Lebesgue integration.

"Why are you learning Lebesgue integration, Andy?"

For too long, I've felt that I'm incomplete without it.

Boom, boom.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tim Harford is my favourite writer these days

I loved this:
...by grabbing tissues and toothpicks, they are holding back the forces of communism. I dimly recall – but have not been able to confirm - that Lenin held up free condiments as an example of the way goods could be free and yet not rationed. It is up to right-thinking people to prove him wrong by walking off with the entire stock.

By grabbing toothpicks, your friends are chipping away not only at bits of salad but at the ideological foundations of communism. They deserve your support.
Now, whenever someone offers me the opportunity to free-ride at his own expense, I can take him to the cleaners with a clear conscience, for the sake of our precious bodily fluids.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dear Economist

I've just sent the following cheeky email to Tim Harford:
Dear Tim,

I read with interest your most recent “Dear Economist” reply to the student concerned about his lazy economics lecturer.

You advised that were he to blow the whistle on his lecturer, he should keep it in-house, lest any potential employer find out and refuse to hire him on the basis that his degree is a sham. But isn't the efficient market outcome the one that would occur if all parties had access to all the information that is available, and by encouraging him to conceal the fraudulent nature of his degree you are imposing a cost on his future employer greater than the benefit the student would receive?

Why are you favouring the welfare of the student at the greater cost to the rest of society in this way? I wonder if your reply is revealing information about the details of your remuneration package. Do you, perhaps, receive payment directly from your correspondents? Will I be billed for sending you this note?

Apologies if my questions are too intrusive.

I'll let you know if he replies.

UPDATE: Tim Harford replies:
Dear Andy,
Good question, but I'm sure you have by now realised that "Dear
Economist" seeks to advise my correspondents, not save the world...
Thanks for writing.
Tim Harford

Saturday, May 12, 2007

DHYB quote of the day

Don't worry. We're not going to stitch you up. We're not like the London police.
What's Andy talking about? He'll have to tell you some other time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Highway engineer pranks

A brief post at Transport Blog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A one sentence rebuttal...

...of the overcrowding argument against free immigration:
You might think of overcrowding as a spillover cost of population growth, but in fact overcrowding is not a cost at all, because it's one hundred percent voluntary.
Simply substitute "population growth" with "immigration".

That's from More Sex is Safer Sex, by Steven Landsburg. Buy this book.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I don't think I've ever articulated this to anyone, but ever since I was an adolescent myself, I have believed that everything that everyone else believed about adolescence is utterly, utterly wrong. It's gratifying to find someone who can confirm my prejudices.

Via Arnold Kling.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I now believe that totalitarian tyranny in Britain is a near certainty

Let me explain why.

First of all, some homework for you. Go and read this article by Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias. In it Hanson ridicules those media stories about new fossil discoveries that are older than the hitherto oldest known fossil evidence for whatever. Quoth Hanson:
The public loves to hear a story of academics shocked, just shocked, by new findings. But there is an obvious bias: we hear lots of stories about data forcing estimates to be earlier, but hardly ever stories about data forcing estimates to be later.

Given continued new earliest fossil finds, it is quite unreasonable to estimate that the earliest behavior started about the time of the earliest known fossil.
The important point to bear in mind is this:
I should note that our best estimate for anything should always follow a random walk; any systematic deviation from such a random walk suggests bias.
Now, I first read 1984 in 1989 in my final year at school. One thing that was frequently remarked upon at the time was that the dystopia that Orwell warned about had not come to pass. If Orwell was trying to predict the future, he got it wrong. He may have successfully predicted the Cold War, but the state did not keep its subjects under constant surveillance, thought was still free and the people did not live in fear of being disappeared and tortured for petty offences against party dogma. My assumption, therefore, was that we didn't really have much to worry about, even though my English teacher did remark at the time that the world could still go that way.

In the years since, however, with the proliferation of CCTV cameras, the establishment of the National Lottery and the like in Britain, I have frequently been surprised at the extenet to which many of Orwell's visions appear to becoming true after all. Despite my surprise, however, I have always thought that although I may not approve of these developments, they will not lead to the nightmare of 1984. Rather than the people fearing torture within Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, the effects will be more subtle - wasted tax money on crime prevention schemes that don't live up to their promises, the frustrations and inconvenience caused by an obdurate bureaucracy. Perhaps a handful of people will have their lives ruined by corrupt officials taking advantage of their new powers, but it would only be a handful. The possibility that the state would systematically murder people merely for disagreeing with the party line would be remote in the extreme.

That was until I read this story. The most vivid image of 1984 that was burned into my mind was of the omnipresent telescreens and their perpetual barking. Whether it be the celebration of the increase of the chocolate ration from 80 grammes per week to 40 grammes, or a scolding for failure to show sufficient enthusiasm for your morning exercises, the telescreens were the source of an incessant din from which there was no escape. Not only that, but they were a two-way channel of information, used by the state to identify thought criminals. This is different from the way things were going until now - surveillance was a separate activity from propaganda. Even if the state could see what you were up to and send its jack-booted thugs round to kick your door down after the fact, at least the BBC wouldn't prod you in the back and scold you whilst your were happily endulging in whatever sinful pleasure the state disapproved of. You had the choice of switching the telescreen off.

But now, it appears, this is all to change. CCTV cameras are to be fitted with speakers, so that when an operator spots you committing "anti-social behaviour" (presumably meaning anything from p***ing in the street whilst drunk, to, who knows?, putting the wrong coloured glass bottle in the recycling bin), you will be suitably admonished for your sins.

I should make it clear that I don't think that this represents some sort of quantum leap in our progress towards the panopticon state. What is different is that it is, I think, the first such development that I have been aware of since I read Hanson's article about the fossil discoveries [Correction: No, it's not. I've just been reading my own blog.] and the thought struck me that whenever I read about such things in the news, I always experience surprise at the extent to which Orwell's visions are becoming reality. Perhaps with the exception of the collapse of communsim in eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War, I cannot think of a single major news story that has surprised me and would count as refutation of Orwell's predictions. My assessment of Orwell as a prophet does not appear to be following the random walk that it should do if it were unbiased. New evidence nearly always suggests that I have underestimated him.

In the light of this, I think it is now time to change my assessment of Orwell's prophecy. From now on, my default assumption will be that everything that Orwell predicted will come true. The intrusions of the CCTV cameras, the petty little rules enforced by bottom inspectors, biometric identity cards and the rest will be nothing compared to what we will eventually have to put up with. The state really will try to control every aspect of the language we speak, we really will have to join in the Two Minutes Hate with gusto and honest, law-abiding folk really will live in a state of perpetual fear of being hauled off to be tortured because their children have snitched on them.

Of course, my new assessment may well be an over-reaction and our future society will lie in some intermediate state between what I expected and what Orwell described. But as things stand, I cannot continue in my old complacency. Things are worse than I thought.

Understatement of the year

From the BBC:
...a potentially embarrassing episode has been brought to an end...

Friday, March 30, 2007

A tale of two cities

Last week, a friend of mine moved to Dublin. Another friend will be moving to New York soon. It is quite likely that they will want to visit each other. If so, they will need directions to find each other. Fortunately, Google Maps can provide the fastest route.

In the light of step twenty-three, I think now would be a good time to give up smoking.

(Via Catallarchy.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Turnpike Trusts

I have a post up at Transport Blog.

Oddly, the spell-checker in the Expression Engine blogging software complained about the word 'blogged'. Blogger's spell-checker doesn't have any problems with it, though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Overheard in St Andrews tonight

"Oh no! I've been waiting all this time for the commercials so that I could go and have a fag*. But this is the BBC isn't it? F****** BBC and its f****** licence fee. Don't they realise that some of us need commercials?"

"Welcome to Britain, Vince."
*Despite being American, he was using the term in its British sense.

Monday, February 19, 2007

What's going on in this country?

Maybe my brain has been addled by too much wine tonight, but on reading this, I was shocked by this:
In the first government defeat, the Lords voted to rule out using sexuality, criminality and cultural or religious beliefs as grounds for diagnosing a mental disorder.
Naturally, I welcome any government defeat on anything, even a tiddlywinks match, but I'm still rubbing my eyes in disbelief that such criteria for locking people up could even be on the table. Sexuality I could just about understand, although not approve, since we've been there before. (But don't we now live in an era of compulsory tolerance of all sexual tastes that don't involve children or animals?) Criminality? Well, we already lock up criminals regardless of whether they are mentally disordered, so I'm not too bothered by that.

But cultural or religious beliefs? Isn't that tantamount to giving someone with a medical degree a license to have you locked up on the grounds that he thinks you're a bit odd? Or because you disagree with the political ideology that happens to be in vogue at the time?

Somebody tell me that their noble Lordships were merely correcting a mistake that the drafters of the legislation hadn't noticed. But if so, why is this being described as a "government defeat"?

Perhaps I should look at this again with a more sober mind.

UPDATE: It has just occurred to me that blogging whilst inebriated was not ruled out in the government defeat. I'm done for.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Car crash ready reckoner

I have a post up at Transport Blog.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Your notation sucks

Obviously I don't need to tell you about the blog war that is currently in progress between Tim Ireland and Guido Fawkes. I have nothing to say on the matter, I'm just enjoying the bun fight.

However, via a link in a comment on one of the posts, I came across this wonderful anecdote about the mathematician Serge Lang:
When attending others' math lectures, he was not reticent about telling the lecturer "your notation sucks"; this trait was reliable enough that he was successfully goaded into saying it at a lecture where he was then presented with a T-shirt bearing this phrase.
The offending notation, pronounced "Xi over Xi-bar", is written:

`Xi / bar(Xi)`

The usual caveats about the reliability of Wikipedia apply. By the way, getting that formula to come out properly requires a java-script, so it won't work from an RSS reader.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Made up fact of the day

Before he became the Undercover Economist, Tim Harford used to advertise condoms on French telly. Or if he didn't, his twin brother did.

Who said economics was the dismal science?

(NSFW, apparently)

HT: Patri Friedman

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Tyranny of Google

Maybe I'm being unfair and quoting a quote that was lifted out of context, but according to this:
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett had earlier said the 45 minute claim was of "little relevance" and used only once.
The claim - that weapons of mass destruction could be used within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein giving the order to do so - was "never used once" in Commons debates, she added.

So, from Hansard, 24 Sept 2002:
Mr. Frank Cook: The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the fact that we must not get it wrong. The Prime Minister told us with great firmness today that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be ready in 45 minutes, which is a fraction of the time that we have been discussing this issue. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that we shall be able to prevent Saddam from launching those weapons and making matters infinitely worse in the time when we are launching our first attack?
And there are more, seven of which preceded the war.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Christmas shopping list

I often give books as Christmas presents. Browsing new releases on Amazon for ideas, I came across Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade, by Robert Sabbag. According to Amazon:
This book recounts the activities of former cocaine smuggler and dealer, Zachary Swan, chronicling his outstanding scams...
Speaking of which, check out the price.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A really, really, really tough mathematics problem

In the past I have been scolded for including too many equations in a blog posting. Well, I'm afraid I'm at it again. You'll need a Ph.D. to understand this. Click here, if you dare.

Monday, November 20, 2006

An interesting new interpretation of the Vatican's position on adultery and bigamy

Did I hear this correctly?

Last night, I was listening to the radio, or rather, I was falling asleep with the radio on. It was Stephen Nolan's phone-in show on BBC Radio 5, and they were discussing some bloke who has fathered fifteen children by two different women. One woman is his wife, the other is his mistress. Both women and all the children are living in his home. He doesn't work, but stays at home to look after the children. His income comes from state benefits.

Seemingly, many of the children were unplanned. When asked why he didn't use contraception, he replied, "I'm a good Catholic."

Reconciling the gentleman's claim with the aforementioned facts about his lifestyle is left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Billions of Monkeys

A few weeks ago, I was "on top of the Rock" in New York, taking pictures like this:and this:when I thought of Brian Micklethwait and his Billion Monkeys Project.

So, here are a few billion monkeys:

Another Micklethwaitism, a picture of a reflection of me taking a picture of a reflection of me taking a picture ... you get the idea. In fact, here are three:

So now you all know what I look like.

Vapour trails form the Cross of St Andrew over Manhatten:

And finally, the sky where the World Trade Center should be standing:

Monday, August 28, 2006

Gambling tips

It is conventional wisdom in gambling circles that when playing Blackjack, you must never split a pair of tens, the reason being that twenty is such a good hand that you can only reduce your chances of beating the dealer by splitting. This conclusion depends on a couple of assumptions and if either of them is false there exist circumstances where you should split your tens.

The first such assumption is that you do not know which cards remain in the deck. However, suppose that is false and consider the following case. You have a pair of tens, the dealer has a six and you have somehow deduced that all the remaining cards that have yet to be played are tens. Obviously, when the dealer plays he will go bust on twenty six and, whenever you split your tens, you will end up with two pairs of tens on the table. Therefore, to maximise your winnings, you should split as often as the house rules allow. It is thus imaginable that a sufficiently skillful card-counter will occasionally split his tens.

The other assumption is that you are playing Blackjack to maximise your winnings, or equivalently, and more accurately, minimise your losses. Other goals are possible, however. For instance, if you are trying to optimise your celebrity status, then I recommend that you split your tens.

So. Thursday night. Andy is playing Blackjack and has a ten dollar bet on the table. He is dealt a pair of tens and the dealer has a six. It is Andy's turn to play.

"I think I'll split."

Dealer gapes at Andy: "That's a pair of tens. Are you sure?"

"Yes. I'm going to split those tens."

Gasps of horror from the other players: "Oh no, you never split tens." "You're splitting a winning hand. Are you crazy?"

"Yes, I am crazy. I'm splitting those tens."

Dealer: "Okay. But hold on. I have to do something." Yells at the top of his voice: "He's splitting his tens!"

A nine is dealt on the first hand. Stand on that. A ten on the next. Split, obviously.

A stunned intake of collective breath around the table.

"He's splitting his tens!"

An eight. Stand. A ten. Split.

The crowd are used to it by now.

"He's splitting his tens!"

This is a four way split, the maximum allowed. The next two cards are both tens.

Andy has a nineteen, an eighteen, two twenties and forty dollars on the table.

The dealer has a six ... sixteen ... twenty six.

Andy wins forty bucks to rapturous applause.