Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians"

--- Hal Varian, passim, e.g. interview with McKinsey Quarterly Jan 2009, "Hal Varian on how the Web challenges managers"

Quote in context:

I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s? The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.

I think statisticians are part of it, but it’s just a part. You also want to be able to visualize the data, communicate the data, and utilize it effectively. But I do think those skills—of being able to access, understand, and communicate the insights you get from data analysis—are going to be extremely important. Managers need to be able to access and understand the data themselves.
Steve Lohr, "For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics", New York Times, August 5, 2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009

"To predict economic agents’ behaviors an economic theory does not have to be true; it simply needs to be believed by everyone"

--- Michel Callon paraphrasing a claim in G. R. Faulhaber and W.J. Baumol (1988) “Economists as Innovators: Practical Products of Theoretical Research,” Journal of Economic Literature 26:577-600.

Source: Michel Callon, “What does it mean to say that economics is performative?”, Chapter 11 in Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa & Lucia Siu (eds.), Do Economists Make Markets? On the performativity of economics, Princeton University Press 2007 (includes Google Book Search), p. 322

In context:
To predict economic agents’ behaviors an economic theory does not have to be true; it simply needs to be believed by everyone. Since the model acts as a convention, it can be perfectly arbitrary. Even if the belief has no relationship with the world, the world ends up corresponding with it.We can thus consider that the famous Black and Scholes formula has no truth value, that it says nothing of real markets, and that it is simply a coordination tool that allows mutual expectations. It constitutes a false but effective representation, and can be seen as pure convention. This is what Faulhauber [sic] and Baumol suggest in their article.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Patina is the value that age puts on an object"

--- John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, in his "open source" column for November 22, 2009, "On Thanksgiving: the memorial that time forgot"

Quote in context:
 "Monuments are anchors in time. Epochs pass, weather erodes, people lose interest. This cannot be helped. But patina itself is worth appreciating. Patina is the value that age puts on an object. It’s what makes an antique antique. It is experience, maturity, the soft sheen of time. Patina wasn’t present at the spanking-new creation. It comes from a life lived."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

“Development is a goal, not a tool”

--- Sheila Herrling, Center for Global Development, quoted in a story by Jesse Zwick in The New Republic, "The Downside of 'Smart Power'", 30 November 2009, second page

Quote in context:

“Smart power,” of course, is a perfectly reasonable idea. But foreign aid is a zero-sum game. Elevating it into a central strategic instrument of our foreign policy means that something else--something noble and altruistic, something embedded in the historic mission of foreign aid--could soon be lost. Sheila Herrling of the Center for Global Development puts it succinctly: “Development,” she says, “is a goal, not a tool.” A longtime foreign aid observer relays that Clinton, aware of some of the simmering discontent at USAID, asked a group of aid experts before her confirmation what she could say or do to make the agency’s career civil servants excited again--to inspire them. She could start by making a difficult admission: that “smart power,” whatever its merits, comes with a genuine downside.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Today’s economists tend to be open-minded about content, but doctrinaire about form"

--- The Economist, "The other-worldly philosophers", Jul 16th 2009

Quote in context:

Today’s economists tend to be open-minded about content, but doctrinaire about form. They are more wedded to their techniques than to their theories. They will believe something when they can model it.

"Who serves best doesn’t always understand"

--- Czeslaw Milosz, line from the poem "Love" in the collection Rescue, quoted by A.F. Moritz in the essay "What Man Has Made of Man" in Poetry, November 2009

Quote in context

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves.
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.

"Perspective / is another word for stasis"

--- Gottfried Benn, lines from his poem "Static Poems", transl. Michael Hofmann, in Poetry, November 2009 p. 105

Quote in context:

is another word for stasis:
you draw lines,
they ramify
like a creeper -
tendrils explode -
and they disburse crows in swarms
in the winter red of early dawns

Friday, November 06, 2009

"If [engineers] had named Kentucky Fried Chicken, it would have been Hot Dead Birds"

--- Vint Cerf speaking at OpenMobile Summit, San Francisco November 2009; quoted by The Register, "Vint Cerf mods Android for interplanetary interwebs", 5th November 2009

Quote in context:

So, Cerf and team booted TCP/IP from the heavens and build an interplanetary replacement they called the Delay-Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol. Cerf admits this isn't the most attractive moniker.

"Engineers are really good at labeling and branding things," said his sarcasm. "If we had named Kentucky Fried Chicken, it would have been Hot Dead Birds."

Unlike TCP/IP, DTN does not assume a continuous connection. When there are delays in interplanetary transmission, the new protocol forces each node to hang onto its packets until they can be safely transmitted. It's now under test with platforms speeding away from earth towards objeccts 80 or 90 light-seconds away.
Update 23 November, 2009: Mark Gordon at Microsoft notes the old ISDN joke: "If AT&T had named Sushi, it would have been CDF (Cold Dead Fish)."

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Impoliteness requires tailoring one's responses to each person in his own way"

--- Gabriela Pessin, in a Home Forum column "Brusquely kind" in the the weekly print edition of the Christian Science Monitor, October 4, 2009 (not available on-line at time of posting).

Pessin tells of the tribulations with Israili civil servants as she struggled against a deadline to get her passport renewed. Here are the closing paragraphs:
   During the long hours of the return flight I couln't help but reflect on what an odd place Israel is, located on that fuzzy border between the first and third worlds. In the United States, people typically aren't so rude to you, but then they also don't steer you to their friends in the bowels of the Central Post Office [to retrieve a mailed new passport hours before a flight departs].
   But maybe the indifference to civility is part of a more genral indiference to bureaucracy, to the nameless, faceless rules of a system; after all, politeness means treating people all the same, while impoliteness requires tailoring one's responses to each person in his own way. And so maybe incivility is what it actually takes to respect you as an individual. And so maybe, just maybe, that's what it realy means to be polite.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Solitude can wreck you, if you desire it only for your own sake"

--- Thomas Merton, entry for February 26, in A Vow of Conversation: Journals 1964-65, in Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master, Lawrence S. Cunningham (ed.), Paulist Press: 1992, p. 193

In context:
    I see more and more that solitude is not something to play with. It is deadly serious, and much as I have wanted it, I have not been serious enough about it. It is not enough just to "like solitude" or love it even. Even if you like it, solitude can wreck you, I believe, if you desire it only for your own sake.
    So I go forward, and I don't believe I could ever go back (even interiorly I have reached a point of no return), but I go on in fear and trembling and often with a sense of lostness, trying to be careful what I do because I am beginning to see that every false step is paid for dearly.
   Hence, I fall back on prayer or try to. Yet no matter; there is great beauty and peace in the life of silence and emptiness. But to merely fool around with it brings awful desolation. When one is trifling, even the beauty of the life suddenly becomes implacable. Solitude is a stern mother who brooks no nonsense. And the question arises -- am I so full of nonsense that she will cast me out? I pray that she will not and I suppose that is going to take much prayer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Mastery is often simply staying on the path"

--- Richard Strozzi-Heckler, In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets

Context (for more see Google Books, p. 75 )

"It looks easy, so why can't I do it?" When Andrews asks me this question he's reflecting the idealism and certainly [sic] of post-Second World War America, that any obstacle can be overcome by the step-by-step application of will, reason, sweat, and if necessary, massed force. As they struggle to learn this powerful but subtle martial art [aikido] they're having face a fundamental tenet of the warrior's path. They're learning that the path of the warrior is lifelong, and that mastery is often simply staying on the path.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Doing econometrics is like trying to learn the laws of electricity by playing the radio"

--- Economist Guy Orcutt, cited by Edward Leamer in “Let’s take the con out of econometrics” (PDF), American Economic Review 73(1), March 1983

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dictators ... rarely fall because they have too many enemies. They fall because they have too few friends left.

--- Banyan opinion column, The Economist, August 15th 2009, a paraphrase of the conclusions of Marcus Mietzner's conclusions in Military Politics, Islam and the State in Indonesia: From Turbulent Transition to Democratic Consolidation (2008)

In full: "In the end, dictators, however unpopular, despotic and incompetent, rarely fall because they have too many enemies. They fall because they have too few friends left."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Like elaborately plumed birds…we preen and strut and display our t-values

--- UCLA economist Edward Leamer, 1983, quoted in an excellent review of instrumental variables in The Economist,"Cause and defect", Aug 13th 2009.

The quote is from “Let’s take the con out of econometrics” (PDF), American Economic Review 73(1), March 1983. In full:
"This is a sad and decidedly unscientific state of affairs we find ourselves in. Hardly anyone takes data analyses seriously. Or perhaps more accurately, hardly anyone takes anyone else's data analyses seriously. Like elaborately plumed birds who have long since lost the ability to procreate but not the desire, we preen and strut and display our t-values."
The Economist article describes how "instrumental variables" have been used to address these problems, and reviews two recent articles criticixing these techniques. Angus Deaton of Princeton contends that using such instruments to estimate causal parameters is like choosing to let light “fall where it may, and then proclaim[ing] that whatever it illuminates is what we were looking for all along.”

The Economist's conclusion:
"This is too harsh. It is no doubt possible to use instrumental variables to estimate effects on uninteresting subgroups of the population. But the quarter-of-birth study, for example, shone light on something that was both interesting and significant... Proponents of instrumental variables also argue that accurate answers to narrower questions are more useful than unreliable answers to wider questions... A more legitimate fear is that important questions for which no good instrumental variables can be found are getting short shrift because of economists’ obsession with solving statistical problems."

Leamer is quite the wit. Here's another quip from about half-way through the paper: "This rhetoric is understandably tiring. Methodology, like sex, is better demonstrated than discussed, though often better anticipated than experienced. Accordingly, let me give you an example..."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Whatever purpose a piece of information may have been created and shared for, it will eventually be used for something else

--- Steven Rambam, quoted in leader article on "The perils of sharing" by Andreas Kluth in The Economist's The World in 2008, p. 28

Kluth's conclusion:

"So there we are, a Google search away, for all to see in places and company we should not have been in, the unwitting backdrop of other people’s documentaries.

"The only remaining choice is whether or not to inject our own perspective, with our own media, into this never-ending stream of narratives, to preserve whatever control remains in presenting our own image. The wise will still share things about themselves in 2009. But they will become hyper-sensitive about sharing collateral information about others, in the hope that reciprocity and a new etiquette will eventually limit everybody's vulnerability, including their own. "

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trying to work out which banks are the world’s best is a bit like awarding the prize for prettiest war-torn village

--- The Economist, "A short list", survey of the world's best banks, May 23rd 2009

Extended quote:

TRYING to work out which banks are the world’s best is a bit like awarding the prize for prettiest war-torn village. It is a title that carries little kudos. It is also likely to prompt further shelling. Winners of industry awards in the past three years include Ken Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, for banker of the year (2008); Société Générale for its risk management; and Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, a failed mortgage lender, for a “lifetime of achievement”.

Still, the question is becoming more pertinent. After months of indiscriminate fear, widespread losses and government hand-holding, the banking industry is gradually stabilising. Money markets are steadily calming. American banks that got a clean bill of health in this month’s stress tests are queuing up to repay government money. A first wave of escapees is likely to include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase. Those banks that emerge from this crisis with reputations and franchises strengthened will find it increasingly easy to raise funds, win clients, attract employees and buy assets.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The more you value financial stability, the more you have to sacrifice financial innovation

--- Dani Rodrik in opinion piece on regulating global finance (or not), The Economist March 14, 2009

In context:

But the most fundamental objection to global regulation lies elsewhere. Desirable forms of financial regulation differ across countries depending on their preferences and levels of development. Financial regulation entails trade-offs along many dimensions. The more you value financial stability, the more you have to sacrifice financial innovation. The more fine-tuned and complex the regulation, the more you need skilled regulators to implement it. The more widespread the financial-market failures, the larger the potential role of directed credit and state banks.

Different nations will want to sit on different points along their “efficient frontiers”. There is nothing wrong with France, say, wanting to purchase more financial stability than America—and having tighter regulations—at the price of giving up some financial innovations. Nor with Brazil giving its state-owned development bank special regulatory treatment, if the country wishes, so that it can fill in for missing long-term credit markets.

In short, global financial regulation is neither feasible, nor prudent, nor desirable. What finance needs instead are some sensible traffic rules that will allow nations (and in some cases regions) to implement their own regulations while preventing adverse spillovers. If you want an analogy, think of a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade for world finance rather than a World Trade Organisation. The genius of the GATT regime was that it left room for governments to craft their own social and economic policies as long as they did not follow blatantly protectionist policies and did not discriminate among their trade partners.

Art jewellery is "buying a bit of the artist's brain"

--- The Economist in a review built around a show of contemporary jewellery at the Saatchi Gallery

In context:

This is jewellery offering a very different expression of identity. The wearer of such pieces challenges preconceived notions. It can include a whiff of intellectual snobbery, as the wearer can be seen as “buying a bit of the artist’s brain”.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Information and knowledge do not exist as a natural resource that merely has to be harvested. It must be constructed by someone

--- Robert G. Picard, professor of media economics at Sweden's Jonkoping University, in an opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, "Why journalists deserve low pay," 19 May 2009.

The quote struck me because it could just as easily be applied to radio spectrum - and it's a preoccupation of mine that spectrum is misleadingly characterized as a resource like land (see e.g. my post William James, consciousness, and the non-existence of spectrum)

The quote in context from the CSM:

Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians. Consequently, the primary economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but in distributing the knowledge of others. In this process three fundamental functions and related skills have historically created economic value: Accessing sources, determining significance of information, and conveying it effectively.

Accessing sources is crucial because information and knowledge do not exist as a natural resource that merely has to be harvested. It must be constructed by someone. The journalistic skill of identifying and reaching authorities or others who construct expertise traditionally gave journalists opportunities to report in ways that the general public could not.

Determining significance has been critical because journalists sort through an enormous amount of information to find the most significant and interesting items for consumers.

Effective presentation involves the ability to reduce information to its core to meet space and time requirements and presenting it in an interesting and attractive manner. These are built on linguistic and artistic skills and formatting techniques.

Monday, May 25, 2009

God has not gone away because people keep encountering Him, in unexplainable, intensely spiritual moments.

--- Barbara Bradley Hagerty, journalist, quoted in Gregory Lamb's review of her book, "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality," for the Christian Science Monitor, 17 May 2009.

This quote is the closing sentence in the closing paragraph:

“Belief in God has not gone away, no matter how secular society has become or how much effort reductionist science has exerted to banish Him,” she says. “God has not gone away because people keep encountering Him, in unexplainable, intensely spiritual moments.”

Second Life mania... All dressed up, somewhere to go, not enough to say or do

--- Jonathan Grudin, HCI researcher at Microsoft, 3 June 2005, personal communication (with permission)

The complete quote: “Second Life mania parallels the virtual world enthusiasm of the mid to late Nineties: All dressed up, somewhere to go, not enough to say or do”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"I thought I would die of sadness." But there are so many other things to die from here.

--- Jane Arraf, journalist, quoting and commenting on an expression of an Iraqi friend

In a fascinating and wide-ranging survey of the situation in Iraq (Christian Science Monitor, 3 May 3009), Arraf focuses on the lives of three friends. While visiting one of them, she meets someone who is still dazed by the killings in 2003. The quote's on page 5 of the web version of the story:

Visiting his old haunts now, Bassim is horrified by the sirens and the security convoys. It's a city he doesn't recognize. The trash in the historic Maidan, the wholesale antique district, almost undoes him. The last time I was there with him in 2005, we wandered through a covered market with dappled sunlight streaming through holes in the roof. Bassim stopped to talk to a cast of characters out of the pages of a novel: an old man behind a stall displaying colored stones that promised to cure everything from heart ailments to heartbreak; a retired prostitute selling local soda while her cat, Mish-Mish (Apricot), kept her company.

Five years later there's been a rare rain in Baghdad, and the markets of the Maidan are padlocked. But then, out steps Bassim's old friend, Hussein Jawad Mohammad, locking up his shop. As they greet each other, it's hard to tell where the tear running down Bassim's cheek ends and the rain begins.

"What happened here after 2003?" I ask, remembering the friends we used to drink tea with, their shops crowded with pieces of history. The thought of Al Qaeda fighters in the alleys and bodies in the streets was unimaginable.

"Shooting. People were shooting each other," Bassim says, still dazed at the killings.

I think of an expression that an Iraqi friend who left uses: "I thought I would die of sadness." But there are so many other things to die from here.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll. Doubting the results is kind of the point.

--- Josh Tyrangiel, managing editor; via Good Morning Silicon Valley.

Tyraniel was commenting after hacking rendered the results of the World's Most Influential Person moot (in more ways than one).

Quote in context, from the story on 27 April 2009

In a stunning result, the winner of the third annual TIME 100 poll and new owner of the title World's Most Influential Person is moot. The 21-year-old college student and founder of the online community, whose real name is Christopher Poole, received 16,794,368 votes and an average influence rating of 90 (out of a possible 100) to handily beat the likes of Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Oprah Winfrey. To put the magnitude of the upset in perspective, it's worth noting that everyone moot beat out actually has a job.


Undoubtedly, many people will question moot's worthiness of the title World's Most Influential Person. managing editor Josh Tyrangiel says moot is no less deserving than previous title holders like Nintendo video-game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (2007) and Korean pop star Rain (2006). "I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll," he says. "Doubting the results is kind of the point."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just live through it

--- Sheelagh de Vries, my mother, said to me in April 2009 when I was agonizing over planning some impending situation

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

They took these non-linear stochastic dynamic general equilibrium models into the basement and beat them with a rubber hose until they behaved

--- Willem Buiter, a former member of the UK’s Monetary Policy Committee who blogs for the FT, complaining that macroeconomists have simply discarded the difficult stuff to make their models more elegant. Quoted in an FT opinion piece by Tim Harford, "Are those who sweat the big stuff in meltdown?", April 11 2009.

Also amusing in this piece was a recollection of P.J. O’Rourke’s explanation of the difference between micro and macro: microeconomics concerns things that economists are specifically wrong about, while macroeconomics concerns things that they are wrong about generally.

And Mark Thoma of the University of Oregon, another economics blogger, is reported as saying: “I think that the current crisis has dealt a bigger blow to macroeconomic theory and modelling than many of us realise.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

When you start making choices, you start losing friends

--- Kent Conrad, the Democratic Senate Budget Committee chairman and a leading fiscal hawk

Quoted in The Economist, Waiting for God-only-knows-what, Jan 8th 2009; about the budget deficit

In context:

"Politically, a reform that antagonises so many constituencies is hardly appetising. “When you start making choices, you start losing friends,” says Kent Conrad, the Democratic Senate Budget Committee chairman and a leading fiscal hawk. He argues the job should be handed over to a bipartisan task force. But Thomas Kahn, the top staffer on the House Budget Committee, notes that some legislators worry that such mechanisms undermine the democratic process by limiting the opportunity for amendment and debate."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If your advertising giveth and your EULA taketh away, don’t be surprised if the FTC comes calling

--- FTC Acting Deputy Director Mary Engle, speaking at the agency's workshop on digital rights management, warns entertainment companies and others who use DRM that they better make sure consumers know exactly what limits and restrictions are attached to their products. Via Good Morning Silicon Valley 3/26/2009.

From Ars Technica:

Mary Engle, an FTC Acting Deputy Director, began her remarks by warning that those who use DRM had better get serious about disclosing it and the limits that it places on products. She referenced the Sony BMG rootkit debacle, saying that "sellers who use DRM technology to enforce the terms of bargains with consumers need to be particularly careful to disclose in advance" what those bargains are.

And just stuffing the disclosure into the fine print of an End User License Agreement (EULA) isn't good enough. "If your advertising giveth and your EULA taketh away," she said, "don't be surprised if the FTC comes calling."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Maybe you can’t quantify those numbers, but they do add up

--- Rob Reilly, co-executive creative director of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the agency behind the A Burger King promotion to give people hamburger vouchers in exchange for dumping Facebook friends, reported in "The Value of a Facebook Friend? About 37 Cents", Jenna Wortham for the New York Times BITS section, January 9, 2009

Context from the story:
To earn their free burger, users download the Whopper Sacrifice Facebook application and dump 10 unlucky friends deemed to be unworthy of their weight in beef. After completing the purge, users are prompted to enter their addresses and the coupons are sent out via snail mail.

. . . .

“Choosing 10 people can take a lot of time,” said Mr. Reilly. “There’s at least an hour’s worth of people’s eyes on your brand. Maybe you can’t quantify those numbers, but they do add up.”

Besides, he added, “we aren’t giving the burgers away -– you have to sacrifice. You are paying for it but the currency is different.”

What price is Burger King placing on a Facebook friendship? At a suggested retail price of $3.69 for the Angry Whopper sandwich, customers are trading each deleted friend for about 37 cents’ worth of bun and beef.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Aristotle will always have thought of it before you. But by creating a novel out of that idea you can make it original.

--- Umberto Eco, interviewed in The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 197, Issue 185, Summer 2008, p. 91 (this excerpt not on the web page)

Quote in context:

An idea you have might not be original - Aristotle will always have thought of it before you. But by creating a novel out of that idea you can make it original. Men love women. It's not an original idea. But if you somehow write a terrific novel about it, then by a literary sleight of hand it becomes absolutely original. I simply believe that at the end of the day a story is always richer - it is an idea reshaped into an event, informed by a character, and sparked by crafted language. So naturally, when an idea is transformed into a living organism, it turns into something completely different and, likely, far more expressive.