Thursday, November 27, 2008


Listening to the nauseating effluvia of Arundhati Roy on BBC Radio 4;  how much better Emily Dickinson is at a time like this.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow
First-Chill-then Stupor-then the letting go

Monday, November 24, 2008


Heard on this show on BBC Radio 4:
You keep reading about dead people who are identified using their dental records. If we don't know who they are, how do we know who their dentist is?

Phrase of the day

I want to die like my father, quietly, in his sleep—not screaming and terrified like his passengers
- Bob Monkhouse

A neat step

The Thai army knows what to do with prima donna generals
A MAVERICK Thai general who has threatened to bomb anti-government protesters and drop snakes on them from helicopters has been reassigned as an aerobics teacher, the Bangkok Post said on Friday.
HT: Paul Kedrosky

Tom Peters

Some management gurus are more modest than their followers. Tom Peters has lunch with the FT.

On whether management is getting harder
On the whole, Peters thinks not. We exaggerate the extent of change, he feels. It is the arrogance of modernity to believe that we face unique and unprecedented challenges. What people say now about the internet they used to say about the railways, the telegraph, the radio
On his book
It was not hard science. But what in management is? “It’s mostly luck, for God’s sakes!” Peters says. He feels the same way about this mega blockbuster that made his name: “A decent book with perfect timing” is his verdict. “There’s not an ounce of false humility in that.”
On his success
“Look,” Peters confesses, “I was born in 1942, in the US. I was protestant. I had relatively intelligent parents and I was white – that’s the first 99.9 per cent of it. Hard work may have done the rest.”
On his neighbour's success
“I had a neighbour who won a Nobel prize for his work on kidneys – he carried out the first effective transplant. I once asked him how he’d done it. ‘We did the most operations,’ he told me. At any point in time there are 10 people up there – one of them does the most.”
Malcolm Gladwell says says something similar about excellence in craftwork in his new book
Anything that is cognitively complex seems like it requires at least 10,000 hours… It’s deliberate practice, so it’s focused, determined, in environments where there’s feedback, where there’s a chance to really learn from mistakes. What’s fascinating about this notion that expertise arises only after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is that it seems to apply incredibly broadly to an astonishing array of different professions - from playing chess to writing classical music to being a brain surgeon to playing hockey…
HT: Stefan Stern

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The New York Times on the reverse brain drain.
We learned new expressions: “He is on tour” (Means: He is traveling. Doesn’t mean: He has joined U2.); “What is your native place?” (Means: Where did your ancestors live? Doesn’t mean: What hospital delivered you?); “Two minutes” (Means: An hour. Doesn’t mean: Two minutes.)

I needed a nice car and a new television!

Felix Salmon

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Chicago builds itself up, knocks itself down again, scrapes away the rubble, and starts over. European cities destroyed in the war were painstakingly restored. Chicago does not restore; it makes something wildly different. To count on stability here is madness. A Parisian can always see the Paris that was, as it has been for centuries. A Venetian, as long as Venice is not swallowed up in mud, has before him the things his ancestors saw. But a Chicagoan as he wanders about the city feels like a man who has lost many teeth. His tongue explores the gaps - let us see now: Here the Fifty-fifth street car turned into Harper avenue at the end of the trolley line; then the conductor hurried through the car, reversing the cane seats.
- Saul Bellow from "Chicago: the city that was, the city that is"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting Better

Paul Kedrosky

Lawyers and Economists

This post from the Economist's Free Exchange Blog is excellent. They quote a very cross Willem Buiter
Except for a depressingly small minority among them, lawyers know nothing. They are incapable of logic. They don't know the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions or between type I and type II errors. Indeed, any concept of probability is alien to them. They don't understand the concepts of opportunity cost and trade off. They cannot distinguish between normative and positive statements. They are so focused on winning an argument through technicalities, that they no longer would recognise the truth if it bit them in the butt. If you are very lucky, a lawyer will give you nothing but the truth. You will never get the truth, let alone the whole truth. Things have degenerated to the point that lawyers and the legal profession not only routinely undermine justice, but even the law.
It reminded me of this old post by Brad De Long
we had found that it was possible to make intellectual and policy progress in discussions with economists because we had all been trained to think analytically: to break the issue down into background assumptions about the world, beliefs about the principal causal mechanisms, and claims about the likely effects of different policies on those chains of cause-and-effect. When we disagreed--as we often did--we could quickly ascertain where and why, and then agree on how to go hunting for pieces of information that would help resolve the disagreement. This was in striking contrast with our collective experience with lawyers or media types, who would be vague about cause and effect, or shift premises in the middle of a meeting when they saw that making different background claims about the world would provide a smoother road to their desired conclusion.


HT: Don Bodreaux

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I really need to stop eating Octopuses
Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better - much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants
HT: Geekpress

A new dawn of American leadership is at hand

HT: Greg Mankiw
This is one of the most extraordinary people ever, but I just wish the people of the United States would accept that what is truly extraordinary is their country, and that no politician is going to get them where they wish to go. I hope they are not disappointed in Obama- too many people are treating this like the Second Coming.

Camelot Redux

I was listening to BBC Radio 4 when they broadcast an interview with a lady in the United States. She said she was voting for Barack Obama because her neighbourhood was run down, and the parks needed fixing and crime was soaring in her area.

Writing in the FT, Clive James puts it well
Great presidents inspire but they also deliver. The plain fact is, Mr Obama cannot deliver what he has promised. The problems he will confront are too difficult. The parallel with Tony Blair is impossible for a Briton to ignore. Enthusiasm among Mr Obama’s supporters is not just naive, it borders on the deranged, much like the enthusiasm in Britain in 1997 for Mr Blair. Remember how everything was possible, finally? “Things can only get better.” Look how that worked out
Postscript: It was even better when they spoke to a man in Kenya who hoped Obama would win because his village does not have water, power, or decent roads. He used exactly the same phrase the other woman used: "Obama will make a difference"

Moon fact of the day

The surface area of the Moon is roughly equal to that of Africa.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Napoleon complex

John Kay on the Great Man theory of History. A choice quote from Alasdair MacIntyre
One key reason why the presidents of large corporations do not, as some radical critics believe, control the US is that they do not even succeed controlling their own corporations.
More More from John Kay on the same theme.
Postscript: Thanks to Gaddeswarup for the correction.

Today's miscellany

The FT continues to be the Romantic's Wall Street Journal. Stefan Stern eulogizes Studs Terkel in the FT's management blog.
Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short for a sort of life, rather than a Monday-to-Friday sort of dying
The Economist's Free Exchange Blog on the American elections.
You'll have to excuse us if we're a little edgy today. It's kind of like Christmas Eve, if Christmas only came once every four years, and if sometimes instead of presents you received a beating.

And a nice cartoon from Greg Mankiw

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The mother of all demos

Jeff Atwood (of Stack Overflow) blogs about a product demo in 1968
On December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and the group of 17 researchers working with him in the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute live public demonstration of the online system, NLS, they had been working on since 1962. The public presentation was a session in the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, and it was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals. This was the public debut of the computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface

Saturday, November 01, 2008