Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Boing-Boing: Crotch-bomber psyche laid bare in messageboard archives

PEACEImage by algo via Flickr
This is pretty intense. It is a reminder to myself to love love love mean people, especially people who are mean to me when I open up. The alternative is to descend slowly into a sick world where suiciding myself along with killing innocents seems like a good idea.

God, help me to love mean people better. God bless those who don't demand everyone be nice to them.

Why don't these guys kill themselves quietly? Oh well, at least the most damage he did was burning his own crotch. Although there are rumblings to bomb Yemen.

Christ, way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A guy burns up his own crotch, and my tax dollars go to bomb 1000 Yemenis to create 100000 motivated terrorists.

From the usually worthless Boing-Boing:

Boing-Boing: Pantsbomber psyche laid bare in messageboard archives (spoiler: he used sad-face emoticons): "Now that we've gazed inside what is purported to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's explosives-laden underwear, let's look inside his mind, by way of an archive of postings he made to the Islamic discussion website
Would the prophet Muhammad have played soccer, were he alive today? Is it okay to eat meals with my parents, even though they're unclean? All this and more he asked, and we know this because Wired Danger Room dug up a slew of links.
The following post credited to 'Farouk1986' is to me the most chilling of all, because it is the most human. As was the response that followed, from another guy on the forum who'd been to the same emotional place [insulting insipid banter removed]
sad.jpgBasically, the problem I'm having is that I've been having extreme loneliness...for many years. I don't really know what to do because I'm not the type who likes to go out much, and I'm just shy and quiet. Even on the internet, I don't feel comfortable posting much because it exposes myself. Sometimes people are so mean.
So I'm trying to figure out what to do. I just wish I had someone to give me attention and stuff. I wish I had someone who would be there to listen to me, and always be nice to me. It really hurts to have someone neglect me or be mean. Unfortunately, a weakness of mine is that I'm sensitive, but I think I became more sensitive after something bad happened some years ago.

للهــــم آميـــــنImage by ukhti27 via Flickr
I wish I had at least one nice person to talk to, maybe over e-mail or Messenger. Of course, if I could find someone to marry, then Insha'Allah I would have someone in real life to give me all the attention and affection I wanted. So far, the families we've met aren't interested in me, though.
Loneliness (Farouk1986, on

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Andrew Gelman on over-use of Economics Utility Model to explain all of psychological behavior

A pair of boots with one bootstrap visible.Image via Wikipedia
I was thinking about this recently. Many times, we can model people's behavior as a boot-strap process: people use a personal, informal, emotional process to decide whether to engage in rational (or semi-rational) utility analysis, or not.

[personal/informal/emotional process] ⇒ {{{decision point}}} ⇒ [begin rational utility analysis]

If they "drop out" at the decision point, nothing worth calling a rational utility analysis even gets started.

Many people are so overwhelmed by grappling with the critical issues of life, that they distract themselves into a silly stupor that makes a rational utility analysis impossible.

Andrew Gelman: Taxation curves and poverty traps - Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science: "
I think the concept of utility is extremely useful, and I've used it in my own applied work (see my papers on the utility of voting and on radon mitigation or the chapter on decision analysis in BDA). Utility is a model, and it's great.
My problem is when people think that the utility model can/should explain everything.
For example, as I've discussed on the blog, I don't think the utility model is particularly useful for explaining uncertainty aversion, seeing as the essence of the 'uncertainty aversion' phenomenon is that preferences can depend on how they are framed and how they are set up in terms of probabilities--two things that violate the classical von Neumann axioms in which preferences should only depend on the ultimate outcomes and their total probabilities, not on where these probabilities come from.
I think it's just sad that utility functions have become a default way of explaining all sorts of psychological processes that don't fit the model so well (requiring the sort of epicyclic adjustments that can make the model more trouble than it's worth). I can respect the general endeavor to take a model and push it as far as you can--to see what tweaks can be done to make it work further than it was originally intended--but, at some point, I think it makes sense to recognize the practical limitations of any mathematical model.
So, yes, I don't think utilities (or, for that matter, preferences) 'exist' in some Platonic sense. But I still think utility theory is great. I think the normal distribution is great, too, even though it can be misused in all sorts of ways!

Galton Box (demonstrates normal distribution)Image via Wikipedia
In a follow-up comment by Gelman:
Nathan (and Dan): I think prospect theory is great. I just don't like trying to explain uncertainty aversion using a nonlinear utility function of money (which, as I and others have shown repeatedly, makes no sense at all when you try to look at it quantitatively), and I really really don't like having to explain this to people over and over again, people whose technical ability is such that they could've realized in the first place the impossibility of explaining uncertainty-aversion-at-any-scale using a curving utility function. And I also don't like the term "risk aversion" casually used in a way that blurs three different phenomena: aversion to risk, aversion to loss, and aversion to uncertainty.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Aggressive-Competence in Software Development : Titus Brown

Wow, this post is great stuff!

Process and data modelingImage via Wikipedia
Aggressive-Competence in Software Development : Titus Brown: "
At the end of the day, there are things you can control, and things you can't control. You can't control what other people think of you, and you can't control how other people (including project leaders and professors) evaluate you. But you can visibly work hard, and defend yourself based upon that evidence.
I call the general approach of throwing energy at a project 'aggressive competence', and I think it's a necessary component of effective team software development. Everyone has days, or weeks, or even months where they look incompetent or ineffective; often that's because outsiders don't understand or appreciate the work that you've done. Tough on you, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect your boss, or colleagues, to look hard at your work to find reasons to praise you. Fundamentally, it's your responsibility to 'manage up' and communicate your progress to others effectively.

Three software development patterns mashed tog...Image via Wikipedia
This is where I think there were mismatched expectations. The students expected that they were going to be managed, helped, and given clear expectations. They weren't. So they got bad evaluations.
What do I plan to do? Well, assuming that UCOSP + MSU goes forward next term, I will be communicating my expectations quite clearly to the students. And I will be asking for regular progress reports, sent to me and CCed to the project leaders. And I'll be sending them this blog post. And I'll be failing the ones that don't listen.
I'll end with a paraphrase of one of my favorite sci-fi authors: 'every new developer has problems on a new project. The extent of our sympathy for those problems, however, will be dictated by the efforts made to overcome them.'

The extent of our sympathy for those problems, however, will be dictated by the efforts made to overcome them. - David Weber, The Short Victorious War
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Never give advice to a fool

Stańczyk by Jan Matejko

The jester is the onl...Image via Wikipedia
Ugh, reminds me of what a fool I have been. Of course I have ignored this sound advice, because I, myself, am a complete fool.

Subhashita Manjari (A Collection of Sanskrit epigrams): Never give advice to a fool: "
पयःपानं भुजङ्गानाम्
केवलं विषवर्धनम् ।
उपदेशो हि मूर्खाणाम्
प्रकोपाय न शान्तये ॥
- हितोपदेशः

The milk fed to a snake only increases its venom. Similarly, the advice given to a fool leads to aggravation and not peace.

Birch-bark manuscript. 62 folios. Date not kno...Image via Wikipedia
Advice is least heeded when most needed.Every evil has its remedy, except folly.
Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Talking about Climate Change: Publishing your Probability Density and Reasoning

The long shadowImage by melancholic optimist via Flickr
"Phil" from "Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science" blog, I believe Phillip Price [ ].

As I say in my comments "Thank you for publishing your probability density for climate sensitivity, and the precise reasoning behind it. This is, practically, the _only_ way to communicate one's considered beliefs for this subject - if one is truly interested in communicating and not just indulging in motivated obscurantism or the art of controversy."

How helpful to have someone state their probability density and reasons behind it. It communicates so much.

"Four out of the last 15 posts on this blog have been related to climate change, which is probably a higher ratio than Andrew would like. But lots of people keep responding to them, so the principle 'give the people what they want' suggests that another one won't hurt too much. So, here it is. If you haven't read the other posts, take a look at Andrew's thoughts about forming scientific attitudes, and my thoughts on Climategate and my suggestions for characterizing beliefs. And definitely read the comments on those, too, many of which are excellent.

I want to get a graphic 'above the fold', so here's the plot I'll be talking about.

Finally, we get to the graphic. Each of these probability distributions is supposed to summarize the belief of a different person. In blue, we have an 'anthropogenic climate change denier.' This is someone who just doesn't believe that doubling of atmospheric CO2 could have any substantial impact on the global mean temperature. I don't know if any such people think the effect could be negative, but maybe they do; if they don't, then just move all of that negative probability into the low positive range somewhere. At any rate, these people are convinced that there is just the right amount of negative feedback to cancel out the known effect of CO2 and the expected effect of water vapor.
But I think the hypothetical 'skeptic' curve puts way too much probability on very low values --- not as bad as the 'denier', but still, this is someone who is unjustifiably convinced that negative feedbacks will come close to counteracting the effects of CO2.

(By the way, none of the lines are supposed to go below zero, or even go to zero, at 6C, but the drawing software I used has done some funny stuff there and it doesn't seem worth fixing. Oh, and each of the curves is intended to have the same integral -- unity -- but since this is just a by-hand sketch, they probably don't).

Above, I've opened my soul, as it were, to discuss why I believe what I believe. Part of my belief, actually a substantial part, is informed by a very simple physical model that I believe is useful in spite of its simplicity, that shifts my prior well away from 0 as a reasonable estimate of climate sensitivity. What if you don't have the physics background to evaluate such a model for yourself? Then, you're more or less forced to choose who you care to believe: deniers, skeptics, 'experts,' journalists, bloggers, friends...

In a comment on Andrew's entry about forming attitudes on scientific issues I said this:
When it comes to anthropogenic climate change, if someone wants to allocate some probability to the chance that the skeptics have it right, I think that's a very reasonable thing to do. Make it 90% mainstream, 10% skeptics, or even 75% mainstream, 25% skeptics if you are are heavily inclined towards the skeptical camp. But there are people out there who are 90-10 the other way! If you are an expert climate modeler and you think your colleagues have the science wrong, that's one thing. If you're just some schmoe who only knows what he reads in the papers, and you choose to assign a 90% or 95% probability to the conclusions of the small band of skeptics...where does that come from? Do you really think the experts in a field get it wrong 90% or 95% of the time?
I think I'll leave it there.


My comments:

Thank you for publishing your probability density for climate sensitivity, and the precise reasoning behind it. This is, practically, the _only_ way to communicate one's considered beliefs for this subject - if one is truly interested in communicating and not just indulging in motivated obscurantism or the art of controversy.

I wish I had the chops to draw one myself. I don't, so I rely on the experts currently publishing articles. I find it hysterical to shriek about the corrupting influence of funding - I am not holding my breath waiting for the appearance of researchers comprised solely of incorruptible energy, freed of the need for money because they draw sustenance from the empty ether. Oh, please. All humans have their self-serving motivations, and reasonable people deal it with accordingly and with due measure. And, scientists never claimed to not be human.

This diagram shows how the greenhouse effect w...Image via Wikipedia
I wish I had the chops to draw the _other_ curve with regards to carbon dioxide - loss of tonnage of fished protein/nutrition due to ocean acidification. Global temperature and ocean acidification both have a large expected impact on human civilization.

> The Kyoto Treaty was a large scale effort...

Surely the intervention can only earn the description of "large" if *some* authority judges it probable to effect the desired change. Otherwise, I could call the Dubai Towers a "large scale effort" to bridge the span to the surface of the moon.

It can be honestly asserted that no large scale efforts have been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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Putting too much faith in employment "Recalculation"

The Income and Substitution effects of a wage ...Image via Wikipedia
I have great sympathy for Arnold Kling's "Recalculation Story" of high unemployment. But he shoe-horns in some foolishness into his otherwise sound theory to try to head Keynesian interventions off at the pass. The main shoe-horned foolishness is that, magically, businesses will hire back everyone laid off, and hire also new workers entering the job market. I ask, Why? It does not follow at all - Businesses have never had so many techniques for keeping their staffs low, and all the techniques are improving in quality, as well.
The interventions to "cure" high unemployment _will_ be Keynesian. Because every other race of economists pretends that high unemployment is not a problem. I am exaggerating, but only a little bit.

I would not mind a "better" form of Keynesian, but those who are in the best position to provide those improvements are too busy pretending that high unemployment is not a problem. Or that businesses have techniques to turn marginal employees into highly productive employees, and they will use those techniques instead of the tried and true methods of raising productivity and shedding employees at the same time. Because of the time wasted on these fallacies, we will get the old Keynesian cure from the old Keynesians, because the Keynesians are immune to these particular fallacies (being too busy with their own fallacies).

John Maynard Keynes {{ru|Джон Мейнард Кейнс}} ...Image via Wikipedia
The interventions to "cure" high unemployment _will_ be Keynesian, whether I like it or not, whether anyone likes it or not. Prepare accordingly - labor legislation in the United States _will_ greater resemble Continental Europe - because the current and expected social costs of high unemployment are very real (including lost taxation and lost consumer demand, besides criminality induced by idleness).

The Job Assignment Problem, Arnold Kling | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty: "
> I agree that high productivity growth is very good news and that it portends increases in hiring.
Running a business, if I have productivity growth, and, for whatever reason, I wanted productivity to go back down, the fastest way to do it would be to hire more employees.
I am not supposed to admit this, but I feel compelled to be honest. Higher unemployment and higher productivity growth have no demonstrated inverse relationship.
When the social costs of unemployment come home to roost, we will see legislation to enforce lowered productivity. I can complain about it, but it would be foolish to not see it coming. Somehow, I will be compelled to hire more employees, and productivity will go down. Because employees bring with them the burden of mandated entitlements and the burden of their own inner sense of entitlement. Like it or not, it is foolish for me to pretend otherwise.
> What people are calling a "jobless recovery" is what I would call the market taking a long time to solve the job assignment problem.
The market has solved the job assignment problem by not hiring. And productivity has increased. During the 'good times', the market was more tolerant of low productivity - now less so. Businesses act accordingly. Because, at this time, businesses are not compelled to bare a share of the current and expected social costs of high unemployment (including lost taxation and lost consumer demand, besides criminality induced by idleness).

A depressing follow-up to a reply to my comment:

> I disagree with manuelg' first comment regarding legislation to compel more utilization of human capital - that's been attempted by, among others, the Luddites, the Wobblies, and the Communists.
I didn't say it would work as advertised! ;-) It will "work" to reward a particular voting block, as one would expect. High unemployment provides the "cover".
> ... the workforce will either develop or rediscover markets that require human capital (R&D, personal service) or the supply will re-train to enter other labor markets a la buggy whip makers and farmers
Or neither. New positions never opening up at an adequate rate is a distinct possibility. Take R&D - why not use 40 Indian PhD's to do the work of 60 US PhD's? Take personal service - a goodly portion of the work of a personal assistant can be done remotely - again employing someone without the same expectation of quality of life and compensation in a place with a much lower cost of living.
The majority of the work will be of poor quality, but the cost savings will be compelling. Like the craftsmanship of a pocket-watch compared to the time display on a plastic cell phone. People spend a smaller fraction of their income on telling the time (pennies out of the cost of the phone and service), and lose daily contact with items to true quality, and that prior level of quality becomes a boutique luxury item, and employs far fewer people.
> to enter other labor markets...
It may in fact be easier to "retrain" a US worker to become a ethnic Chinese worker (chopstick skills, walking stooped to pass through lowered doorways, reading/writing Chinese letter-forms) than it would be to retrain a US worker to have the skills and sense of responsibility and lack of sense of entitlement that the new employment positions opening up require. Look at the malaise of Japan's labor economy as the positions disappeared for lifetime employment by a single employer, never to return. Even after years of a desperate situation, it is not 100% certain that a human will change their attitudes to match a new reality.
Not to put too fine a point on it.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Nisbet Gripe, Cont'd

full photo of Gobustan rock drawingImage via Wikipedia
Michael Tobis - Only In It For The Gold

My Nisbet Gripe, Cont'd: "I have no objection to the idea of framing messages effectively. Until this week, I had no idea why some people were complaining so bitterly about Nisbet.

But Nisbet is in the strange headspace of politics, where science is just a piece of furniture on the landscape of politics. What's more, it's a black box which emits certain very simple results. And when he describes the box, he gets it hopelessly wrong, and uses the bizarre and broken frames of the worst elements of the press.

The problem isn't the concept of framing. The problem is that the guy who has done the best job of staking out 'framing' as his personal territory has about the most toxic set of frames out there for our issues. There is no getting rid of writing to your audience, but the word 'framing' itself isn't all that valuable. If it belongs to Nisbet I don't want it.

One thing I've learned recently is that while in many ways I behave like a journalist, I simply have almost no interest in 'news' any more than I am interested in 'sports'. Events in sports fall clearly into the space of 'don't matter'. In fifty years nobody will remember who won the superbowl this season. In politics, they will remember Obama's name, but little of what he said or did.

As long as we play on the battlefield of week-to-week politics and don't actually look into the science box, we lose the war of words. Yes, the right is disposed against us and the left toward us, pretty much for arbitrary cultural reasons. But the opposition is free to twist the facts and we aren't. So they pick off people as they start to pay attention and the mythology of massive corruption in climate science gets further elaborated.

If we don't play the long game, if we don't try to revive critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning, if we don't go beyond assertion and into explanation, we are playing on the opposition's turf.

Nisbet may have done a good job of describing the opposition's turf, but that is all he knows. He, specifically, is an example of a person lacking a scientific education remotely commensurate with his capacities and interests. His approach embodies the substitution of politics for knowledge.

The long game is our home turf, and we have to stop listening to people who miss that point completely. The absurdly short time scales and shallow symbolic allegiances and frantic half-crazed yuppie obsessions du jour of the beltway and the press are the problem, not the solution.


My comment to the post:

I am slack-jawed. You summed up Nisbet perfectly. You communicated better than I could have, exactly how Nisbet rubs me the wrong way. I am compelled to go into detail about how good a job you did.

> Yes, the right is disposed against us and the left toward us, pretty much for arbitrary cultural reasons.

Climate Control entranceImage by vodstrup via Flickr
A good thing to remember. Once the costs of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the trillions (with human cultures displaced from drought and flooding, loss of food and wood production from climate change, and loss of ocean protein and nutrition from acidification), the left cannot be counted on to spend scarce resources effectively, because of the need to reward loyal voting blocks. (Not claiming the right will be any better.)

> Nisbet may have done a good job of describing the opposition's turf, but that is all he knows. He, specifically, is an example of a person lacking a scientific education remotely commensurate with his capacities and interests. His approach embodies the substitution of politics for knowledge.

So cruel, and so true.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

How do I form my attitudes about scientific questions? - Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science

Crank it up!!Image by De Shark via Flickr
Andrew Gelman at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

How do I form my attitudes about scientific questions? - Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science: "
It's not that the scientific consensus is stupid, it's that some statements are so stupid that they only come because the speaker has processed some aspect of the consensus in a particularly ugly undigested form.
...To me, it's another case where the existence of the consensus has switched off people's brains.

This point is valid, and well put, but if you read the whole post, I think Andrew Gelman is being far too pessimistic.

> "What do I recommend you all do? On subjects where Phil and I are the experts, I suggest you listen to what we have to say. Beyond that, I dunno."

This is very pessimistic and skeptical of considered consensus, and contradicted by Andrew Gelman's daily life. Before I step into a subway train, I don't form opinions about the quality of considered consensus of civil engineers, and Mr. Gelman does not either.

Commenter "jonathan" makes the point:

> I think you've raised two separate issues. One is the process by which consensus builds, entrenches, shifts, etc. The other is how rational people make rational decisions about information.
> It's interesting to me how in a few notable areas the two are lumped together: the idea that biologists are maintaining some (evil) consensus in favor of evolution and that climate scientists, etc. are doing the same with regard to climate change.
> ...

A highly resolved Tree Of Life, based on compl...Image via Wikipedia
If you step back and compare "Skepticism of Human Activity Causing Global-Warming/Climate-Change" to established cases of motivated obscurantism, like denying evolution and natural selection, and tobacco carcinogenicity, and the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, and the efficacy of the polio vaccine, and perhaps less established cases of motivated obscurantism like controlled demolition taking down the Twin Towers and HIV/AIDS, you see familiar patterns and similar techniques and motivations both sinister and innocent-by-way-of-ignorance/gullibility. It will seem like bad form to the self-described "Skeptics", but they could bring doubters into their fold by work - the work of authoritatively publishing their opposing immutable thesis, and welcoming that to be subjected to the highest standard of scrutiny. And what are we to make of the "Skeptics" doing everything _except_ that work?

The considered consensus of the scientific experts, here, is slowly growing and publishing an opposing authoritative immutable thesis - far too slowly and too messily and with too much initial unwarranted speculation for an impatient world - but at least they are building something up for possible future champion to knock down. And if it resists being knocked down - we have a consensus where it would be "perverse to withhold provisional consent", using Sagan's phrase.

Astroturf GreenImage by sbisson via Flickr
As for motivation within this possible case of motivated obscurantism, how can I discount the astroturf and sympathetic goodwill David Koch has purchased and does purchase?

If you draw the boundary of consideration small enough "I dunno" seems like honest skepticism of considered consensus. But what is the compelling reason to draw the boundary of consideration so small as to ignore case for motivated obscurantism?
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sharks with people teeth.

Sharks with people teeth.: "

Sharks with people teeth.

A giant grouper at the Georgia Aquarium, seen ...

HI IM A SEELImage by Nancy Wombat via Flickr
God, how I love this. Durr to the Hurr.  Durr to the Hurr, indeed, young man.  Durr to that Hurr.  Derp.

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Liberals Are Useless

I am not sure what to think about Saul Alinsky. Forgive me for temporarily getting hysterical, I will pick up my argument after this point: our murderers most resemble their murderers, no how different we are from them. OK, tone done the hysteria, pick up the argument - those who would put politics over truth and those who would use propaganda most resemble the dissemblers on the other side.

It is better to be a radical than a liberal, because it is true what Jonathan Schwarz says "Conservatives like people with their hearts, liberals like people with their heads, radicals like people with both their heads and their hearts". But being that radical will be a much more quiet and background affair than a straightforward aping of Che Guevara's example (I am using Che Guevara's name just as a placeholder for any infamous radical you could choose. Knock yourself out, and pick your favorite infamous radical.)

Because the internal struggle will be the limiting factor on the care you will provide.

Ernesto Che Guevara in Moscow, RussiaImage via Wikipedia
Conservatives are more likely to use approaches that aid the exceptional individual. Liberals are more likely to use approaches that aid the marginalized group. True care to humans will synthesize both, even thought the two are often quite contradictory. When you need to synthesize the contradictory, you have no short cut, you have to explicitly synthesize the contradictory. Like far from shore, rowing a boat and bailing out a boat at the same time - if you stop either, you are lost - and no efficiency claimed on one of the pair can make up for the absence of the other.

The Eastern Philosophies often explicitly synthesize the contradictory. How mature and wise.

Liberals Are Useless - Tiny Revolution by Jonathan Schwarz: "
Chris Hedges said it, not me:
I learned to dislike liberals when I lived in Roxbury, the inner-city in Boston, as a seminary student at Harvard Divinity School. I commuted into Cambridge to hear professors and students talk about empowering people they never met. It was the time of the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Spending two weeks picking coffee in that country and then coming back and talking about it for the rest of the semester was the best way to “credentialize” yourself as a revolutionary. But few of these “revolutionaries” found the time to spend 20 minutes on the Green Line to see where human beings in their own city were being warehoused little better than animals. They liked the poor, but they did not like the smell of the poor. It was a lesson I never forgot.

Computer-generated Model of Purine Nucleoside ...Image via Wikipedia
I've thought something along these lines many times myself. In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky says: 'liberals like people with their heads, radicals like people with both their heads and their hearts.' This is an absolutely critical insight about human nature, one which would change the life courses of many young liberals if they heard it. This may explain why it seems to appear almost nowhere online.
The one thing I'd add is that conservatives actually do like people with their hearts. So I think the saying should go: 'Conservatives like people with their hearts, liberals like people with their heads, radicals like people with both their heads and their hearts.'
—Jonathan Schwarz
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Derek Sivers - Ideas are just a multiplier of execution

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby and Muckwork.Image via Wikipedia
Derek Sivers - Ideas are just a multiplier of execution: "
It's so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want me to sign an NDA to tell me the simplest idea.)

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.



GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

n.d.—A narrow gauge railroad to the mines at P...Image via Wikipedia
The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20.The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000.

That's why I don't want to hear people's ideas.

I'm not interested until I see their execution."
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Everything about causal inference in 40 pages

I will go over this with a fine tooth comb. I am looking forward to Judea Pearl's 2nd editon of _Causality_. I will have to transfer a whole bunch of margin notes!

Ishikawa fishbone-type cause-and-effect diagramImage via Wikipedia
My take. Causality is a hack. The structure of the universe doesn't guarantee anything that would causality a fool-proof technique. But it is very effective, and it is a built-in hack in the brains of humans. Humans handle causal relationships quite naturally and usually correctly in simple (and not so simple) situations. But, very effective or not, it is still a hack.

Hack or not, you have to use causality to understand the world, and make decisions about the world, and make rational actions inside of the world.

A directed graph.Image via Wikipedia
I would make the cycle-free directed graph the _definition_ of causality. Then there is the "do" operator on the graph, where a node is constrained to a particular value, chosen by analysis or chosen by a randomizer (from a range suggested by analysis).

In this causal graph, you can have "nodes" that, inside, contain

** relations from statical properties of historical data
** relations from statical properties of simulations, however the simulation is constructed
** relations from scientific laws
** relations from non-scientific laws - like "rules of thumb" and other relations that no one would defend as being laws of nature
** relations suggested by symmetry
** relations suggested by "smoothness" - filling in gaps or smoothing errors with "simple" equations

Bayes theoremImage by disownedlight via Flickr
** relations suggested by naive Bayesian - using the Bayesian equation to add missing information, possibly quite naively

The analysis begins with 3 or more of these causality graphs - each chosen from a different discipline of analysis, and each chosen as the "simplest" thing that could possibly work, to start.

The graphs suggest experiments to carry out, and the graphs can be scrutinized.

The graphs change, more are added, some are deleted, just keeping 3 or more, with examples from different effective domains of analysis (one graph may be suggested by the laws of physics, another by the laws of economics, another strictly statistical from historical data, another from political science storytelling, etc.)

Some quite optimistic (borrowing the analysis of the most active participants) and some quite pessimistic (even so pessimistic so that a majority of current activity would not be advised by the model).

Each is must simpler than reality, and, thus, suitable to run against many many different future eventualities. Keep them simple so they are nimble and responsive tools.

None would really be defended as the complete, because so simple. The cost of any complexity is considered to be great. Simple models, easily manipulated, quickly manipulated.

We would have a personal standard of rationality, and a lower standard for semi-rational actions in a group (economic/social groups are demonstratively loath to hold themselves to the highest disciplines of rationality). For the personal standard of rationality - think Socrates. For the lower standard of group semi-rationality - think Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Neither is better or worse than another, each is to be used in their own domain. The real-world economic/social group would immediately feel paralyzing anxiety when presented arguments from people who hold themselves to the highest disciplines of rationality - so it is irrational to present that to them.

Everything about causal inference in 40 pages: "
Judea Pearl describes his new article Causal inference in statistics: An Overview as 'a recent submission to Statistics Survey which condenses everything I know about causality in only 40 pages.' That seemed like a bold claim, but after reading it I'm sold. I don't come from Pearl's 'camp' per se, but I found this a really impressive overview of his approach to causation. His overtures to folks like me who use the potential outcomes framework were much appreciated, although it is clear throughout that there is still intense debate on some of the issues. The bottom line: if you've ever wondered what the structural equation modeling approach to causal inference is all about, this is your one-stop, must-read introduction (and an insightful, engaging, and thorough one at that).
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Preschool, pretty cool!

Honestly, was before my anxieties built up. Starting with first grade, I lived inside my head, and that was not a pleasant place to be.
Teaching in the Montessori pre-school

Man, I am so glad my daughter finds new places and new people fun. If a kid learns nothing else except:

1) that other people are far too interested in themselves to notice you

2) what other people think of you is none of your business

3) not much counts besides ** having a long term vision that you can change as evidence suggests, ** having the ability to stick with a long term plan, ** having the patience to work through the difficulties, ** having the guts to not be afraid of being knocked down, ** having the nerve to stick with it until you achieve success. Every other think is of far far far less importance. No grade in no subject will count as much.

Basketball is widely enjoyed by American youth...Image via Wikipedia
But, man, these lessons are hard to learn, and US culture does not make it any easier.
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