Assorted links

by on February 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Where does Greece stand right now?  Another take here.

2. NYT reports on Israeli Ethiopian birth control.  I’ve read some of the supposed debunkings of this episode, but I still think it newsworthy and the NYT account largely supports this view.

3. Markets which were never meant to be (celebrity perfumes), and how’s Detroit doing?

4. Why do we get bored with really great works of art?

5. What will the digital reading revolution look like in Africa?

6. The future of weaponized drones.  And 3-D printers and gun control.

7. What data can’t do, by David Brooks.

8. Japan expert Donald Richie has passed away.

prior_approval February 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm

‘Why do we get bored with really great works of art?’

This would be an interesting topic – sad the link doesn’t really discuss it.

IVV February 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm

“The only constant is change.”

Novelty, as far as I have experienced, is the only true antidote to ennui. Trying to maintain a sense of wonder involves being able to see things for the very first time. I can think of one item that kept the interest of a lot of people longer than most. Back in my youth, I was on a forum regarding a reality television show. In the show, there was a challenge involving a gathering of letters, followed by an unscrambling of those letters to form a word. One contestant gathered the letters quickly, but then did not unscramble the letters, eventually throwing the competition to her ally. Now, it was clear that she was acting as backup in this case, protecting the ally, but we all started having a field day about all the wrong words that might have been going through her head, trying to unscramble the letters. Whereas most jokes get old fast, this one snowballed, lasted a week, and we noted that it didn’t get old. That was probably because we were all looking for new ways to express the letters incorrectly, sharing ideas, and so the punchline kept changing–it was always new. That sense of wonder remained far longer than most other drab forum jokes.

However, perhaps the one emotion that we should attempt to crystallize is not wonder after all, but contentment. Certainly, the love for a life partner evolves over time, from crush to bliss to steadfastness, and yet that love can be seen to endure for the rest of one’s life. Is it enough to wake up every morning, knowing that what you have is good and achievable?

Probably not. The hedonic treadmill grinds away at contentment. And so we fight. And so we innovate. We philosophize. We look at the world with contempt, yearning to grow and change it further. But then again, I have always felt, since my childhood, that humanity’s greatest gift–the one that has kept us from being satisfied on the plains of Africa with our sticks and stones–is that deep-seated knowledge that everything we have, everything we see… sucks.

Silas Barta February 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Anything conventionally considered “art” only has so much about it that you can enjoy, after which, you’ve used up its excitement. In compsci terms, its stimulation scales as O(1) or perhaps O(n) with the size of the artwork.

Consider, OTOH, computer games aka non-art. They are able to give a different response to different inputs (instead of just the same response every time), usually meaning superpolynomial excitement relative to the size of the game (i.e. data needed to encode it).

So, it’s much, much harder to use up their excitement relative to the “canvas size”.

IVV February 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Computer games are most definitely art, but you are correct in that their continued and diverse interaction with the user allows for them to be exciting for longer.

Willitts February 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm

If you consider the Mona Lisa a single visual image without sound or movement, it doesn’t take long for marginal utility to drop to zero.

A movie consists of thousands of images and a soundtrack. There is a rebuttable presumption that a movie can evoke a broader and more sustaining emotional or mental impact than a single image. This is why we will watch the same movie many times. Similarly, we might read the same book several times. We might even notice things we didnt notice before. Unless we examine the Mona Lisa with a microscope, that curiosity ends fast.

An interactive game is constantly stimulating because it not only gives you motion and sound, but also surprises, challenges, joy and disappointment.

So maybe video games aren’t your thing. They aren’t much my thing either. But I will wager you money that I can play Modern Warfare longer than you are willing to stand in front of the Mona Lisa. In fact, I’ll wager I can tolerate Modern Warfare longer than you can stand the Louvre.

TerriW February 19, 2013 at 11:51 pm

As I started reading the article, I was thinking: if he references that new Judge Dredd movie (slo-mo drug), I’ll eat my hat.

Well, my hat lives to see another day.

bluto February 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

The 3-d printing guns thing is basically an issue where law hasn’t caught up with innovation. The receiver/frame on a bolt action rifle or revolver is one of the sturdiest parts of the object. (It’s the biggest piece of metal in this photo: from the claw shaped metal where the bolt handle locks to the receving end where the barrel screws. In a revolver it’s the o shaped piece of metal that surrounds the cylinder with the bullets).
So making that the controlled item makes a lot of sense, it’s generally big, sturdy, difficult to fabricate and without it the gun doesn’t really exist etc. However on an AR-15 (and many similar modern weapons), the receiver is split (and the lower receiver was deemed legally equivalent to those items. But the receiver is most similar to a cover or frame for a bunch of other things to attach near each other. The difficult to manufacture items are still the barrel, bolt (which holds the cartridge as its being fired), and bolt carrier group (which moves to unload the spent shell after firing and reloads the next round). If the law were to make one of those items the “controlled” part home made/printed AR-15s would become a thing of the past.

Yancey Ward February 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

…..until 3D printing can produce those. It will never be a “thing of the past”.

bluto February 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm

3-d printing of hardened steel? If we achive that the ability to make guns will be the least of everyone’s concerns (that would pretty much be a Star Trek replicator).

Yancey Ward February 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Only a matter of time, and probably far less than you think.

John February 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm

It’s not printing hardened steel but a strong polymer — and there are already guns that are entirely “plastic” so it’s not surprising that 3D printers would be able to manufacture a pistol or rifle. I want to say that someone has already done this but I cannot recall where I think I heard about it.

In any case, I suspect with the specialty polymers and base it would be spayed on that it will simply be cheaper to go buy the current process models.

anon February 20, 2013 at 5:35 am

You already can print metal objects with 3D printers. I don’t know if this printed metal is strong enough to be used in guns, but even if not, we’re definitely not that far away from printing every part needed to assemble a gun.

John February 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for pointing that out. After a quick google looks like the equipment would be the prohibitive aspect but if they can make items from stainless and tool steel and titanium then mild steel would be no issue.

Brian Donohue February 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm

#7. I thought it was kinda dumb and lazy. I got nothing to back that up with- just a gut reaction.

Joe Smith February 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm

+1 :-)

Not clear to me what would constitute a “mountain” of data for Brooks.

Ray Lopez February 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Agreed, a weak op-ed by Brooks, who also makes this howler: “Data struggles with the social. Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437), but it’s excellent at social cognition”–stupid, stupid Brooks. The answer is: “20.904544960366872333964101859373″, which is not an integer. Now had it been SQRT(144) any geek could tell you it’s 12.

jwatts February 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm

20 squared is 400, I immediately assumed the answer was 21. David Brooks is hanging around to many Liberal Arts majors.

Chris February 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Agreed, I got to “a bit less than 21″ and settled on 20.9 with 15 seconds of thought.

Why the facilities manager here at the office doesn’t like me, I’ve thought about that for days and still don’t know. Just because I have strong opinions of clock placement?

Claudia February 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Here’s a test for you big brains: “Suppose you had $100 in a savings account that paid an interest rate of 2% a year. If you leave the money in the account, how much would you have accumulated after five years: more than $102, exactly $102, or less than $102?” … Can you guess what fraction of adults over the age of 50 can answer that question? … warning it’s a real howler (Answer:

It’s fair to say a lot people have trouble with basic, life-relevant math. And you know what it? It actually makes me question some of the data on their spending and saving. Is that what they wanted to do or were they ill informed or manipulated or all of the above? Many people have higher social intelligence than mathematical intelligence. What’s odd is there appears to often be a low (negative?) correlation between the two abilities. I have seen some sharp economists write down social network models that are ridiculously bad on the social dimension (like network=work colleagues only)…though jam packed with data and fancy econometrics.

I am clearly missing something here. Nothing new.

JWatts February 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm

I read the article this weekend. And yes I was surprised at the results.

Chris February 19, 2013 at 9:48 pm

This is less a financial problem than a classic word problem. Reading quickly and skipping the “five years”, the only important number in word not numeric form, then seeing answers framed around $102, one immediately starts thinking about it as a one-year-term problem. My first instinct was to think, hmm, is that 2% simple interest or is it continuously compounded, that might be the tri- oh its five years.

Claudia February 19, 2013 at 10:25 pm

People don’t get compound interest and a lot of other basic economic concepts. It’s not just the wording of this question. I even tried it with dynamic graphics…not much better. What does a mortgage contract tell us about your true preferences if you don’t understand compound interest?

mofo February 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Thats how i feel about pretty much all Brooks columns. I really dont see why anyone cares what he writes. Cause he writes for the NYT? Is that really all it takes to turn a boring hack into a relevant commentator?

Yancey Ward February 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Worked for Krugman.

Brandon Berg February 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

On the contrary, it turned him from a relevant commentator into a boring hack.

Ricardo February 20, 2013 at 3:46 am

Krugman is so irrelevant and boring these days that there is no shortage of people on the internet or on TV who will take the time to tell you just how irrelevant and boring he is. When you find someone who everyone from the President of Estonia and Joe Scarborough to blog commenters agree is irrelevant and boring and they do so repeatedly and loudly, you know it has to be true.

collin February 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Unfortunately, David Brooks has become the Republican Thomas Freidman (IMO) and writes some wonderful ideas that have no real world impact. (Frankly, I think it is because he never has come to terms with the Bush administration and Iraq failures. Also seems to indicate a danger of being a NYT writer.) Yes it is obvious data does not do a lot of things, it best point to effectiveness of varying solutions. For example, the birth rate in the US and other developed nations is quite low. Data will generally tell you that for women and men workers being married and having more than one child reduces your wages. Now if you want people to have more children, you know what you are up against.

Claudia February 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm

7) I saw this article in my twitter feed this morning and I was surprised (?) at the push back from some academic economists who do a lot of creative work with data. If you work with data a lot you know (or should know) its limits and the analyst judgment that go into inference. Also I basically agree with Krugman’s response that most of limits of data analysis are more about people and less about data…though economists tend to have a data hierarchy which can be self-limiting. If you only collect data on the things you think matter…well guess what, it’s hard to be proven wrong. But does that make you right?

Carola Binder February 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Claudia, I agree with you. I work with data a lot, but know that which data I choose to use and how I choose to use it depends on the model that I make. In macroeconomics, the data is limited enough that people’s creative choices matter a lot.
Mark Thoma has an interesting response here:

Claudia February 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Carola, I do a good bit of my macro analysis with micro data, so I think Thoma’s claim that we just need more data is pretty empty. Sure give me the 1,000 different counter-factual policy paths and their real world outcomes for one point in time and I would be happy as a clam. But Big Data doesn’t let you see alternate states of the world, and even if it did I am sure economists would argue over the conclusions. More data requires, more judgment. As long as people balk at being experimental subjects in their own lives (rightly so), economists are going to have to deal with incomplete, imperfect data. And this means we should be comfortable admitting to the incomplete, imperfect nature of our data.

Carola Binder February 19, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Yes, I guess even with huge volumes of data macroeconomists can argue about identification problems all day. This is what I see whenever I go to finance seminars. They typically have tons of data and the trouble is convincing people they have a “natural experiment” or other convincing identification strategy.

Jon Rodney February 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Really this article should be titled “What machine learning algorithms can’t do … yet.”

Mark Thorson February 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Not mentioned in the National Geographic article on drones is that “American skies swarming with drones” will have no useable over-the-air broadcast television (which doesn’t matter because its dying business model won’t exist much longer) and seriously degraded wireless communications (which matters a lot). Nobody will realize this until after it happens, so the swarms are coming. After they get here, it will be too late to legislate a solution.

Anon. February 19, 2013 at 2:58 pm

As a Greek I would welcome the rule of Syriza. Greeks lean so far left not only because they lack education, but also because there never was a seriously leftist government in Greece. Politics and people are still stuck in post-military dictatorship kneejerk reactionary mode. A complete collapse after the communists take over should put an end to this crap. And then maybe we can find our Thatcher and rebuild.

Roy February 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I hate to say it but I think you are right, however this will be a really protracted and painful lesson, especially since Syriza will have years and years to blame it on the right. If I had to live in Greece, and my family had to live in Greece, I think I would do everything in my power to put this lesson off as far as I could though. Of course, people like me who are a lot more morally flexible are the reason every time the Communists came close it ended in horror, thus infantilizing almost the entire educated class. Of everything I see in Europe today, this is the most tragic, but I don’t see any way forward that isn’t even worse than the current situation.

JWatts February 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm


“Hantz Farms is a recent addition to the cityscape. Backed by John Hantz, a local investor, the group won city approval to buy 140 acres of land, or 1,500 parcels, for $600,000. The group plans to plant 15,000 hardwood trees that will take 40 to 60 years to mature before harvest. The parcels where trees will be planted are in sparsely populated neighborhoods and will often not be contiguous. Hantz Farms originally wanted to plant fruit and vegetables, but local inhabitants worried about rodents.

Local activists opposed the deal, saying it was a land grab aimed at driving up property values by making land scarce, thus also driving up property taxes for the woodland’s poor neighbors and forcing people out.
“People have an accurate historical memory that every single development scheme here has benefited the wealthy and harmed the poor,” said Howell, the environmental activist.”

So a private group wants to buy up abandoned land that failed to sale at auction, clean up the trash and plant hardwood trees. And the local environmental activists are against it?

Chris February 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm

You must not regularly pay much attention to Detroit. As a departed but interested native Detroit (the City Proper, as the suburbanites say) has been paranoid about outside influences to the point of lunacy for decades. With Coleman Young gone it is now like the paranoid monkey experiment* where everything is resisted because – that’s how its done. The State of Michigan recently offered to administer Belle Isle park, taking several million off the expense side of the City’s budget, while employing exclusively Detroit residents and was rebuffed on imperialist grounds.

*Apocrophal? Five monkeys in the cage, banana hanging from rope, hose down monkeys who try to get banana, rotate monkeys one at a time, newcomer monkey attempts to eat banana but is prevented by others, six rotations later no one eats the banana despite never witnessing a hosed monkey.

ivvenalis February 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm

#6: You know what else can print AR-15 receivers? A CNC mill.

I think the ability to mass-produce magazines on these things is a bigger deal, since it can be done with relatively low-end machines, although on the other hand there are probably at least as many people with the relevant sheet metal working skills as there are that own one of these things.

Willitts February 20, 2013 at 12:14 pm

4. Diminishing…..marginal…..utility.

What more needs to be said about it?

Willitts February 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

5. The dim glow of an iPad illuminating blood spattered on an empty dinner plate.

DocMerlin February 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Re: 4)
…Because they suck. Really…
Most “great works of art” are lame and terrible.
You can go into random art galleries in most major cities and see things that are incredible and wonderful… far better than the “great works of art” that everyone talks about.
Also, hell, we have the internet. People vomit forth, stuff that is profoundly wonderful, on a daily basis.

Floccina February 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm

#1 if i was a Greek voter I would vote to refuse to pay. A default like that is a balanced budget amendment with teeth. Let it be known that if you lend money to the Greek Government you have no way to collect and the government does not need to pay because with a population falling as fast as it is in Greece why should the government ever borrow?

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