ESP Experiment

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

You are required to take part in Clifford Pickover’s ESP Experiment.

Most importantly, after you take part, you must read other subjects’ explanations for how it works.

The most suprising two paragraphs so far today

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

For Tyler Cowen. the most suprising two paragraphs so far today come from Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn’t Just in Genes:

“How tall your parents are compared to the average height explains 80 to 90 percent of how tall you are compared to the average person,” Dr. Vaupel said. But “only 3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived.”

“You really learn very little about your own life span from your parents’ life spans,” Dr. Vaupel said. “That’s what the evidence shows. Even twins, identical twins, die at different times.” On average, he said, more than 10 years apart.

Al Jazeera’s (Global) Mission

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Al Jazeera’s (Global) Mission involves a new English-language channel, Al Jazeera International:

But Al Jazeera International (AJI) has grander ambitions than to be simply the enfant terrible of the Middle East. For starters, it will broadcast in English, giving it a much broader reach; its staffers are imports from upmarket operations such as the BBC, CNN, and Associated Press Television News (APTN); and it professes a rigorous code of ethics and the loftiest news-gathering goals. “The mission of Al Jazeera International is to provide accurate and impartial news with a global, international perspective,” says Will Stebbins, formerly an APTN regional editor and now AJI’s Washington bureau chief. “News in the U.S. clearly comes from a very culturally specific viewpoint that eclipses many important stories and issues. We want to provide different points of view from around the world.”

The format for the channel, which is currently scheduled to launch in late spring, is itself innovative. Instead of being run out of a central command post, AJI’s news day — and news management — will follow the sun: Programming will begin in Doha, Qatar, which will likely host a 12-hour chunk of the day, then shift to London for a four-hour segment, then to Washington, DC, for a 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (local-time) slot, and finally to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The top of each hour will be hard news; the back half, analysis, chat shows, and documentaries, some of it generated by viewers. There will be only one feed, so viewers worldwide will all see the same broadcast at the same time.

More intriguing, each news desk will be run independently, with the mandate to report international news through its own lens. Imagine, says Stebbins, by way of illustration, the follow-up to Bush’s recent State of the Union speech: In Doha, broadcasters might have lined up reaction to the president’s warning to Hamas to disarm; in Kuala Lumpur, analysis might have dialed in on Bush’s comments on protectionism; and in London, on his admonishment of Iran. And in the States, Stebbins says, instead of the usual pundits, he might have rung up Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s fiery president, or polled Mexicans on Bush’s remarks on immigration enforcement.

Download the classics

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Download the classics:

Starting today, you can go to Google Book Search and download full copies of out-of-copyright books to read at your own pace. You’re free to choose from a diverse collection of public domain titles — from well-known classics to obscure gems.

The Measure of Reality

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Jim McCormick provides a lengthy and fascinating review of Crosby’s The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600:

Crosby believes that the period between 1275 and 1325 (and shortly thereafter) in northern Italy saw the radical realignment of social attitudes toward the nature and management of time and space. This dramatic change in perspective (literal and figurative) was in turn to influence navigation, mapmaking, timekeeping, mathematics, art, writing, music, optics, mechanical devices, and financial management. This wasn’t the Renaissance; it was the Renaissance’s foundation. Before this critical 50 years, the world was still as Aristotle and Plato conceived it. And as most of the world’s civilizations perceived it. Afterward, the view that humans could both predict the world and re-create it as they wished gained irreversible credibility. Crosby further believes that the dramatic changes in attitude toward the natural world were still insufficient to explain the explosive leap ahead which European cultures made in the late medieval period.

The final “striking of the match,” according to the professor, was the linking of quantification techniques (n.b., echoes of Nisbett’s cognitive research) with the aggressive development of visualization methods: maps, perspective drawing, clock faces, plotted cannonball trajectories, musical notation, algebraic notation, alphabetization, book indexing and tables of contents, etc. etc. At every turn, the properties of objects were being measured, recorded, and evaluated from the perspective of literally a new vision of “reality” … simpler, universal, and graspable by ordinary people.

Through the unknown, remembered gate

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

In Through the unknown, remembered gate, Wretchard cites a Washington Post story about casualties in Iraq:

Between March 21, 2003, when the first military death was recorded in Iraq, and March 31, 2006, there were 2,321 deaths among American troops in Iraq. Seventy-nine percent were a result of action by hostile forces. Troops spent a total of 592,002 ‘person-years’ in Iraq during this period. The ratio of deaths to person-years, .00392, or 3.92 deaths per 1,000 person-years, is the death rate of military personnel in Iraq.

How does this rate compare with that in other groups? One meaningful comparison is to the civilian population of the United States. That rate was 8.42 per 1,000 in 2003, more than twice that for military personnel in Iraq. The comparison is imperfect, of course, because a much higher fraction of the American population is elderly and subject to higher death rates from degenerative diseases. The death rate for U.S. men ages 18 to 39 in 2003 was 1.53 per 1,000 — 39 percent of that of troops in Iraq. But one can also find something equivalent to combat conditions on home soil. The death rate for African American men ages 20 to 34 in Philadelphia was 4.37 per 1,000 in 2002, 11 percent higher than among troops in Iraq. Slightly more than half the Philadelphia deaths were homicides.
[...]
Marines are paying the highest toll in Iraq. Their death rate is more than double that of the Army, 10 times higher than that of the Navy and 20 times higher than for the Air Force. In fact, those in the Navy and Air Force have substantially lower death rates than civilian men ages 20 to 34. … Lieutenants have the highest mortality of any rank in the Army, 19 percent higher than all Army troops combined. Marine Corps lieutenants have 11 percent higher mortality than all Marines. But the single highest-mortality group in any service consists of lance corporals in the Marines, whose death risk is 3.3 times that of all troops in Iraq.

Profits or Pundits?

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Jerry Bowyer asks whether we should listen to Profits or Pundits?:

When I want to know what the people of a region are thinking, I look at two things: short-term capital flows and long-term migration. The two most important votes that a man can cast against his rulers are when he votes with his feet or when he votes with his nest-egg. Usually, he does it in the reverse chronological order.

The results were shocking. Shocking, that is, if everything that you know about the conflict comes from talk radio and cable TV.

When Hezbollah was taking the initiative, Arab companies fell. When Israel hit back, they rose. The harder Israel hit, the faster they rose. You’d expect the Israeli markets to act this way (which they did), but the Arab ones too? You see, Hamas and Hezbollah are not just threats to the Jews; they’re threats to the Arabs. In fact, they do more damage to the latter than to the former. They represent the political and social chaos that keeps the money of the first world from flowing into the third world. The natural conflict is not between Arab and Jew, it’s between civilization and chaos. By this measure, Israel didn’t destabilize the region; it re-stabilized it.

Since long-run migration patterns after the crisis will not be available until, well, the long-run, we should look at what capital markets are saying.

I’ve taken a cross section of large, publicly traded blue chip companies that do business in Arab countries. This group, dubbed, “The Arab Titans Index,” is composed mostly of banks and utilities. Then I synced it with a time-line of the major attacks and counter-attacks of the conflict.

But the markets have a surprise for the hawks, too: They liked the cease-fire. The incredibly complex web of information that constitutes the decisions of the customers, managers, and shareholders of the Arab Titans concluded that Hezbollah’s actions were bad for business. Likewise, they concluded that Israel’s counter-attack was good for business. Finally they came to the conclusion that it once Israel achieved on the battle-ground as much as could be expected it was time for the war to come to a conclusion, too.

Genius Junk Foods

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Men’s Health recommends a half-dozen Genius Junk Foods, which seem bad for you but aren’t:

  • Pork Rinds
  • Alcohol
  • Beef Jerky
  • Sour Cream
  • Coconut
  • Chocolate Bars

Why aren’t they bad for you? Often because the saturated fats they contain aren’t bad saturated fats.

It Has Motors In Its Wheels

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

It Has Motors In Its Wheels:

A British engineering firm has put together a high-performance hybrid version of BMW’s Mini Cooper. The PML Mini QED has a top speed of 150 mph, a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds. The car uses a small gasoline engine with four 160 horsepower electric motors — one on each wheel. The car has been designed to run for four hours of combined urban/extra urban driving, powered only by a battery and bank of ultra capacitors. The QED supports an all-electric range of 200-250 miles and has a total range of about 932 miles (1,500 km). For longer journeys at higher speeds, a small conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) is used to re-charge the battery. In this hybrid mode, fuel economies of up to 80mpg can be achieved.

The unanswered question: How much does such a hybrid Mini cost?

The Atomic Automobile

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

The late 1950s were an optimistic era. Witness The Atomic Automobile, Ford’s Nucleon concept car from 1957:

Ford’s engineers imagined a world in which full-service recharging stations would one day supplant petroleum fuel stations, where depleted reactors could be swapped out for fresh ones lickety-split. The car’s reactor setup was essentially the same as a nuclear submarine’s, but miniaturized for automobile use. It was designed to use uranium fission to heat a steam generator, rapidly converting stored water into high-pressure steam which could then be used to drive a set of turbines. One steam turbine would provide the torque to propel the car while another would drive an electrical generator. Steam would then be condensed back into water in a cooling loop, and sent back to the steam generator to be reused. Such a closed system would allow the reactor to produce power as long as fissile material remained.

Using this system, designers anticipated that a typical Nucleon would travel about 5,000 miles per charge. Because the powerplant was an interchangeable component, owners would have the freedom to select a reactor configuration based on their personal needs, ranging anywhere from a souped-up uranium guzzler to a low-torque, high-mileage version. William Ford alongside a 3/8 scale Nucleon modelWilliam Ford alongside a 3/8 scale Nucleon modelAnd without the noisy internal combustion and exhaust of conventional cars, the Nucleon would be relatively quiet, emitting little more than a turbine whine.

The vehicle’s aerodynamic styling, one-piece windshield, and dual tail fins (which are absent in some photographs) are reminiscent of spacecraft from 1950s-era science fiction, but some aspects of the Nucleon’s unique design were more utilitarian. For instance, its passenger area was situated quite close to the front of the chassis, extending beyond the front axle. This arrangement was meant to distance the passengers from the atomic pile in the rear, and to provide maximum axle support to the heavy equipment and its attendant shielding. Another practical design aspect was the addition of air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of the roof supports, apparently to be used as part of the reactor’s cooling system.

Ford’s nuclear automobile embodied the naive optimism of the era.

A Big Star May Not a Profitable Movie Make

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

A Big Star May Not a Profitable Movie Make:

“Movies with stars are successful not because of the star, but because the star chooses projects that people tend to like,” said Arthur S. De Vany, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of California, Irvine, who has written extensively about the economics of moviemaking. “It’s a movie that makes a star.”
[...]
Mr. De Vany and other economists point out that many factors contribute to the success of a movie — like a big budget, having a G or PG rating, opening on a large number of screens and whether it is a sequel, among others.

In one study, Mr. De Vany and W. David Walls, an economist at the University of Calgary, took those factors into account. Looking across a sample of more than 2,000 movies exhibited between 1985 and 1996, they found that only seven actors and actresses — Tom Hanks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jodie Foster, Jim Carrey, Barbra Streisand and Robin Williams — had a positive impact on the box office, mostly in the first few weeks of a film’s release.

In the same study, two directors, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone also pushed up a movie’s revenue. But Winona Ryder, Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer were associated with a smaller box-office revenue. No other star had any statistically significant impact at all. So what are stars for? By helping a movie open — attracting lots of people in to see a movie in the first few days before the buzz about whether it’s good or bad is widely known — stars can set a floor for revenues, said Mr. De Vany.

“Stars help to launch a film. They are meant as signals to create a big opening,” he said. “But they can’t make a film have legs.”

(Shouldn’t a professor emeritus be referred to as Dr. or Professor de Vany?)

Dealer’s Choice

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

In Dealer’s Choice, James Surowiecki explains how car companies are at the mercy of their own dealers — because they don’t own or control dealerships at all:

When analysts talk about how to turn G.M. around, most start with the need to slim down the company and get rid of less popular brands. (Buick and Pontiac are perennial nominees.) It’s an eminently sensible approach, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, because it would challenge the interests of some of the most powerful players in today’s auto industry — car dealers.

Car dealers, with their low-production-value TV commercials and glad-handing tactics, seem like the archetypal small businessmen, and it’s hard to believe that they could sway the decisions of global corporations like G.M. and Ford. But, collectively, they have enormous leverage. Dealers are not employees of the car companies — they own local franchises, which, in every state, are protected by so-called “franchise laws.” These laws do things like restrict G.M.’s freedom to open a new Cadillac dealership a few miles away from an old one. More important, they also make it nearly impossible for an auto manufacturer to simply shut down a dealership. If G.M. decided to get rid of Pontiac and Buick, it couldn’t just go to those dealers and say, “Nice doing business with you.” It would have to get them to agree to close up shop, which in practice would mean buying them out. When, a few years ago, G.M. actually did eliminate one of its brands, Oldsmobile, it had to shell out around a billion dollars to pay dealers off — and it still ended up defending itself in court against myriad lawsuits. As a result, dropping a brand may very well cost more than it saves, since it’s the dealers who end up with a hefty chunk of the intended savings.

How She Does It

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Sophie Vandebroek, Xerox’s chief technology officer, explains How She Does It:

Ten years ago, Vandebroek’s husband, Bart, died suddenly, leaving her alone with three small children and no other relatives in the United States. Vandebroek responded not just by sticking to her career but by taking on a series of increasingly challenging, high-profile jobs. In January, she became Xerox’s chief technology officer, responsible for harnessing the creations of five global laboratories to drive growth at the $15.7 billion document company.

Her colleagues have watched this ascent with some awe: I don’t know how she does it, they whispered. And for years, Vandebroek, 44, fed the mystery, reluctant to discuss her husband’s death. But lately, she has begun talking openly about how her family’s tragedy helped her understand what’s really important. She’s passionate about the strategies she has used to balance home and work as a single parent, including strict rules for travel, refusing relocations, even capping the number of friends she keeps up with. Her mantra: “Delegate, simplify, and leverage IT.”

Disproportionate Response

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

James Rummel posts some thoughts from Steven den Beste on Israel’s Disproportionate Response:

Industrial war can be summed up this way: God fights on the side which has the biggest pile of ammunition and the fastest rate of replacement of expended ammunition. Like any general principle it’s not absolutely unconditionally true, but that’s the norm.

In response, two new strategic doctrines of war were developed to make it possible for small logistically-poor forces to contend against large logistically-rich forces without getting instantly crushed: guerrilla warfare and terrorist warfare. Both of them seek to nullify the logistical advantage of their richer opponents by maintaining initiative, so as to control the tempo of the war at a level low enough to not exhaust the logistics of the poorer side.
[...]
IMHO Israel botched this war, but that’s not the question I wanted to address in this discussion. The question I began with was, why did so many people demand “proportionate” responses from Israel, and condemn Israel’s bombing campaign as being “disproportionate”?

It’s because Israel refused to play the game. Israel opened up an offensive which ran at a logistically unsustainable rate for Hezbollah, which Hezbollah could not avoid fighting. The code word “proportionate” really meant, “Israel, you have to limit yourself to fighting at a level that Hezbollah can sustain. Otherwise it’s just not fair!”

Of course that’s idiocy; war isn’t about fairness. But that’s what they were really saying. Hezbollah did make a major mistake in that attack, because they had developed to the point where they actually presented a target Israel could fight against at a tempo Israel could sustain but Hezbollah could not. Israel had the opportunity to crush Hezbollah, but Olmert lost his nerve.

A new, old "Lassie" comes home to U.S. theaters

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

A new, old “Lassie” comes home to U.S. theaters &mdash one that resembles the original story:

“Lassie” comes home to another generation of U.S. children this week in a new film that hews closely to the original, dark tale of the loyal collie and her boy in wartime England, instead of the sunny California of the long-running television series.

The sable-and-white collie, Lassie, and her young owner, Joe, first appeared in a 1938 short story in the Saturday Evening Post by Eric Knight, a British-American journalist and writer who spun the story into a 1940 book, “Lassie Come-Home.”
[...]
Like many fans, Sturridge had never read Knight’s book or seen the 1943 film it spawned, and initially assumed from watching the TV show that Knight had created Lassie as an American dog living on a ranch in California with her owner, Timmy.

In fact, the story grew out of a trip Knight took during the Great Depression to England, where he saw people selling belongings to survive, according to “Lassie” historian Ace Collins.

“The prized possession of these people were their collie dogs,” Collins said. “A lot of people were having to sell those dogs to put food on the table.”

“Lassie Come-Home” became the story of a Yorkshire boy whose coal miner father sells the family’s unusually beautiful collie to a nobleman when he loses his job. The duke takes the dog to Scotland, where she escapes and returns to the boy.