Friday, July 29, 2011

The Polymath's Path

Noah Davis interviews Paul Hoffman, who ran Discover when he was 30, and who has had a number of interesting careers since then. His college roommate "had already discovered a sub-atomic particle in high school," which put him off a career as a physicist, and his father was a speed-reading English professor who "read three novels a day" and "had a photographic memory," so fiction was out as well. A fascinating career followed.

What would you tell a 22-year-old kid?

First of all, I would say, don't sweat it. It's really easy to say that in retrospect, but I really do mean that. You can make mistakes. You can take a job and six months later you can decide that it's hell. "It's not for me. I'm not interested in this." That's totally okay. In fact, that's easier now because the paths are not so well defined. People that present their careers as entirely successful from the age of 15 and on, most of it's fiction. Okay, maybe that's true in a couple people, but that's a couple people. There are several billion people on the planet who have managed to make their careers in other ways. You can't be afraid of failure. Even if you look at these incredible successes—people who were multimillionaires by the age of 30—often they did something that wasn't a success at first. Passion is so important. You have plenty of opportunities to bounce back if something doesn't work. If you see something out there that you really want to do, just go for it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dean Potter

Wingsuit, slackline, BASEjumping,rockclimbing legend and happy mutant Dean Potter received the oral history treatment in July's Outside Magazine:
JIM HURST (climbing, slack­lining, and filming partner who shot footage of Potter’s 2008 freeBASE climb on a 1,000-foot, 5.12+ Eiger route called Deep Blue Sea): I first met Dean when he was cooking at Pete’s. I think of Pete yelling, “Dean, get the fuck in here!”—complaining because Dean was making these blueberry pancakes with piles of ­blueberries for his climbing friends. Before Dean got the job at Pete’s, he was living on saltines and condiments. I think he liked mustard.
POTTER: I got the job as cook at Pete’s because I couldn’t bear being on food stamps anymore. Basically, I worked for a $3-a-night place to sleep, plus breakfast and dinner. I ­remember sitting with my friend Jim Belcer one Christmas Eve, eating salt sandwiches, and we were saying, “Man, this is dumb—this is a salt sandwich.” Now, somehow, I romanticize it. But at the time I wondered, What’s gonna happen when the salt runs out?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hello, There

From Aldrovandi's History of Monsters.

This Farce is Over

Take the 14th Amendment axe to the debt ceiling and call it a day.

Links for Later

1. Felix Salmon on NPR's This American Life on Intellectual Ventures patent troll strategy
2. New publishing business models
3. A Keynesian question
4. Defeatist nonsense about liberals and Obama
5. How large is your vocabulary?
6. Dumbledore's strategy beat Voldemort's
7. Debt ceiling scenarios
8. Jameson Lindeskog's obituary. Note the ending.
9. Elizabeth Drew on the debt ceiling
10. Robert Pattinson's Cosmopolis haircut
11. Walter Pater, Giordano Bruno
12. GE Lessing, Laocoon

Not All Alike

BLDGBLOG shows us some of the "twisty little passages" found underneath several churches and farms in Bavaria, and featured in Der Spiegel. The passages form "very small labyrinths" with "Schlupfe (slips)" that are "only 40 centimeters in diameter". Almost nothing has been found in the passages, so they probably weren't places to hold animals or humans for any length of time.

There are lots of them, they're also found elsewhere in Europe, and there are no records of why or how they were built. Werebadgers? Cave Hobbyists? Underground railroad predecessors? Underwear gnomes? Who knows?

Friday, July 22, 2011


A car bomb went off in Oslo today. Subsequently, a gunman dressed as a policeman began shooting people at a youth camp. News reports are still developing.

Links for Later

  1. Grace Coddington (via longreads)

  2. Obama = Democrats' Nixon ?

  3. Obama on compromise

  4. How to Disappear

  5. David Foster Wallace-esque character in the upcoming Jeffrey Eugenides novel

The Bridgewater Principles, Part II

This week, John Cassidy profiled Ray Dalio, co-CEO and CIO of Bridgewater Associates. Dalio is best known for two things: 1) running one of the largest and most successful hedge fund groups in the world, and 2) instituting a culture at the firm based on a set of principles of "radical transparency" and non-emotional decision-making.

This sort of culture can either be a blessing (you're working with a team of very honest and forthright people who won't stab you in the back) or a nightmare (you're working with a team of obsessive-compulsives who will stab you in the front). The particular 3d instantiation that you end up with from your 2d stack of paper is going to be highly dependent on who's doing the instantiating. Cassidy makes the whole thing sound a bit too much like a medieval monastery: tucked away, lots of self-criticism, spiritual proctors, the whole nine yards. It makes me wonder how high-strung he keeps the team over there. On the other hand, Dalio mentions in his Hedge Fund Association talk that creativity is very important, so perhaps there's more of a search for the fortunate accident than one might believe from the article.

Previously: Kevin Roose profiled Dalio for New York Magazine

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Butcher's Bible

Playwright Howard Brenton and his father have a discussion with the local butcher:

The butcher would have none of this. Everything in the Bible was true: the Red Sea literally parted, Lazarus rose from the dead, the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus ascend into heaven. The Bible is the word of God, end of argument. A realisation began to dawn on my father, and he said something like "but it is only a translation, from Hebrew and Greek". The butcher exploded. Translation? No! He believed Jesus and the disciples actually spoke the words of the King James Bible. The language of biblical Palestine was Jacobean English.

The Carter-Radcliffe Cuteness

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Tennenbaum House

Located in Harlem at 144th.
(via kottke)

Keynes and the Crisis

Ezra Klein hits all of the right notes on this short article on Keynesianism in the crisis. Go and read now.
[T]he role of the government is to break the cycle. Because businesses and consumers have stopped spending, the government breaks the cycle by spending. As clean as that theory is, it turned out to be a hard sell.

The first problem was conceptual. What Keynes told us to do simply feels wrong to people. “The central irony of financial crises is that they’re caused by too much borrowing, too much confidence and too much spending, and they’re solved by more confidence, more borrowing and more spending,” Summers says.

Links for Later

  1. General Petraeus' move to the CIA

  2. Psychology of winning

  3. Clinton supports the constitutional debt ceiling option

  4. Grant Morrison on Supergods

Brazenhead Books

Michael Seidenberg's Upper East Side apartment doubles as a bookstore.

There's No Place Like Here: Brazenhead Books from Etsy on Vimeo.

More: Here are nine more unusual bookshops scattered around the world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Why the defense budget is going down, down, down, and what that means on the jobs front

  2. Bringing back the draft to save money?

  3. Hypergraphia, a symptom I'd like to have (without the frontal pole degeneration, please)

  4. Kelly Link, "Valley of the Girls"

  5. About the blog Zero Hedge

  6. Dave McKean art for sale. Want.

  7. Safewords

Vladimir Gvozdev

Creator of biomechanical creatures in painting and sculpture, Vladimir Gvozdev is beloved by steampunks and others. Here's a nice toad for you.

Why Cut, Cap and Balance is DOA

This chart, by the Center for American Progress, shows that we're in a very different country from the one where government spending was at 18% of GDP. It also demonstrates why we can't go back to fifty years ago: different country, diffferent needs. The CCB plan would lock us into being something that we haven't been for a really long time.

(via Ezra Klein)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Collections: Completists vs. Accumulators

I want to preserve this comment about the table as a crucial structure for the pre-moderns, as discussed in this review of two books on collectors and collections by Sally Feldman

Freud was not systematic in his acquisitions and was far more interested in the differences between the objects than in forming any unified theory about them. His approach to them was very similar to his approach to psychoanalysis: he would seek hidden meanings through details, much as he would explore the hidden recesses of the mind to unravel each human journey. Freud attempted to draw an analogy between the historical topography of Rome and different psychic events lodged within the mind, so that each stage of an individual’s development matched the evolution of civilisation. Indeed, Freud would use archaeology as a metaphor for psychoanalysis, explaining to one patient that conscious material “wears away” while what is unconscious is relatively unchanging: “I illustrated my remarks by pointing to the antique objects about my room. They were, in fact, I said, only objects found in a tomb, and their burial had been their preservation.”

And this approach underlines a crucial difference between earlier forms of thinking about the world and post-Enlightenment views. Michel Foucault, in The Order of Things, contrasts the two as being the difference between an assumption of a fixed and immutable universe which could be formulated into a matrix or table, and one which was subject to change, to development, to evolution. From the end of the 18th century, he argued, “the table, ceasing to be the ground of all possible orders, the matrix of all relations, the form in accordance with which all beings are distributed in their singular individuality, forms no more than a thin surface film for knowledge… The visible order, with its permanent grid of distinctions, is now only a superficial glitter above an abyss. The space of Western knowledge is now about to topple.”
[emphasis mine]
(via bookslut)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

John Cochrane's Fiscal Model

One of my former professors, John Cochrane, was recently photographed in the course of dinner with Congressman Paul Ryan together with a nice bottle of wine and an even nicer hedge fund manager. Matt Yglesias suggests that this might have something to do with a paper Cochrane published last year on fiscal policy during the current recession. Cochrane is a truly gifted researcher in the area of asset pricing, teaches a great course and wrote a fantastic book in the same area. That's why it's such a surprise that his work in macroeconomic policy consistently underwhelm.

For example, as Brad DeLong notes, Cochrane has made the error of proposing an upward sloping IS curve, and made several other mistakes in the paper as presented at Berkeley.

Noahpinion reviews the Cochrane paper here, noting several important points:
The fact that Cochrane reduces the macroeconomy to two more-or-less uncontroversial equations causes me to invoke Noah's Third Law of Article Reading:
If your model is a subset of the intersection of most existing models, either you didn't get any new results, or you need to check your assumptions.
In other words, don't expect to get Exciting New Results using only the Same Old Stuff. Is John Cochrane really going to show that higher taxes cause inflation using nothing but an intertemporal budget constraint and hoary old MV=PY?

Simplifying your model past the point of full determinacy doesn’t remove the need to make additional assumptions about economic relationships; it just makes those assumptions implicit rather than explicit. If you say that only these two equations matter, you’re saying that other things, like imperfect competition and price stickiness, don’t.

...So Cochrane is being intellectually honest here. He’s admitting that he just left out all of the things that monetarists and Keynesians believe makes stimulus and quantitative easing effective. They “can easily be added,” but he doesn’t add them. So the conclusion that countercyclical policy doesn’t work is going to follow pretty naturally from the assumption that countercyclical policy doesn’t work.
Also, there's a peculiar idea in the paper that we're in the downward sloping part of the Laffer curve.
[Cochrane's estimate] implies that the Bush tax cuts raised our trend per-capita growth by 0.36%, or more than one-sixth. It also implies that the Johnson and Reagan tax cuts raised our trend growth far more than that, and that the Clinton tax increases significantly decreased our trend growth. Unsurprisingly (to me, anyway), a long-term plot of U.S. output doesn’t show any of these things.
It's a pretty thorough take-down. Go hence and read it all. Paul Krugman pans the paper as a game of "Chicago Calvinball". It does nothing to explain why the standard IS-LM models don't work as normal, other than that perhaps Dr. Cochrane has policy goals in mind that he'd like to see implemented.

More: Noah takes another whack at the Cochrane paper.

Savoir Faire - Sur le Quai

Sur le Quai from Savoir Faire on Vimeo.

ooh, ah.
(via andrew sullivan)

Links for Later

1. Oscar Pistorius is "bionic...and hot"
2. Glenn Greenwald dissects the Manning/Lamo Wired chat transcripts
3. Bradley Manning profiled
4. Why the White House wants a big deficit deal
5. George RR Martin
6. Richard Feynman
7. A Macavoy/Fassbinder appreciation Tumblr
8. Airport body scanners still not safe. TSA still in denial

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pardon the interruption, we will return after reading A Dance with Dragons. That is all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Bird eggs

  2. Prospect theory, a primer

  3. One of my former professors was drinking wine with Paul Ryan: it was a really nice Burgundy

  4. Barack Obama, still negotiating poorly, and joining the Catfood Commission while he's at it

Intelligent Design

Doonesbury, G.D. Trudeau

I used to tell my freshmen bio students that if they wanted to have me teach creationism in the classroom, I'd do it, but that I got to pick the religion.


In which Charles Stross argues with a numpty (great term, that) who wants to know what possible credentials (other than being an SF author of the first rank) Stross has that lets him talk about the problems of space flight.

My usual response to people who ask for my credentials is to state that I am worshipped as a god. Mr. Stross is nicer than I.

Good News/Bad News

This new model of habitable planet in galaxy suggests that a) habitable planets are much more common in the inner part of the galaxy than previously predicted, and b) most of them are tidally locked to their stars, meaning nothing can live on them.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Animated GIF Beer Making

Brilliant animations of the Dogfish Head beermaking process, used as part of a marketing campaign.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Having been a consultant for some length of time, I have asked and/or answered more of these questions than I should probably admit. I would have scored the answers given by Giles Turnbull as "correct" in any interview I ran and probably hired the person on the spot, assuming that they came up with it on the spot.

  2. Tibetan singing bowls

  3. Metric & Caliber fonts (via kottke)