Thursday, September 29, 2011

“Each of these bands is its own Russian novel”

--- Rebecca Arbogast (regulator, investment analyst, government affairs exec), describing the complex characters and plots of radio allocation proceedings; mentioned in conversation 9/22/2011, referring to an insight she had when working at the FCC in the late Nineties

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"If you seek tranquillity, do less" (and better)

--- Democritus frg B 3, quoted by Marcus Aurelius in Meditations Book 4, 24

More interesting is Aurelius's gloss on Democritus, here from Gregory Hays's new translation (Modern Library 2003)

If you seek tranquillity, do less.” Or (more accurately) do what’s essential – what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.

Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you‘ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary”?

But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate unnecessary actions that follow.

Monday, September 05, 2011

"Life is a path that you beat while you walk it"

--- ascribed to Antonio Machado, in Arie de Geus, The Living Company (1997) p. 155.

It seems to be quoting the line "se hace camino al andar" from the poem Caminante, no hay camino, which could also be translated as, "the road is made by walking" or "you make your path as you walk."

Here's the text from the ellyjean blog, with a translation she ascribes to wikipedia:

Caminante, son tus huellas 
el camino y nada más; 
Caminante, no hay camino, 
se hace camino al andar
Al andar se hace el camino, 
y al volver la vista atrás 
se ve la senda que nunca 
se ha de volver a pisar. 
Caminante no hay camino 
sino estelas en la mar. 

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.
De Geus responds this way: "To me, this line embodies the most profound lesson on planning and strategy that I have ever learned. When you look back, you see a clear path that brought you here. But you created that path yourself. Ahead, there is only uncharted wilderness."

“A language isn’t something you learn so much as something you join”

--- Arika Okrent, author of a book on artificial argots, quoted in Tongues and grooves: The lure of made-up languages, The Economist, 6 Aug 2011. From the story:
SCRABBLE is compelling enough, but playing it in Esperanto, for those of a certain cast of mind, is even more addictive. The invented language’s tidy roots and suffixes are well suited to wordplay. A recent game in London featured words like acajeto (a little bit of dirt) and artamehoj (echoes of the love of art). Over its 120-year history Esperanto may have failed in its original mission to bring world peace via mutual intelligibility, but it remains both an engaging intellectual exercise and a route to a ready-made social life.
A language isn’t something you learn so much as something you join,” says Arika Okrent, author of a book on artificial argots. Few people will bother to learn a language on abstract or idealistic grounds, she says. Esperanto gives them a reason to get started, because of the culture that has grown up around it.
It also covers Klingon (no surprise).

Sunday, September 04, 2011

"A policy of avoiding small recessions has resulted in the biggest downturn since the 1930s"

--- The Economist's Buttonwood columnist, "Running out of options" 30 July 2011

Just as in complex systems everywhere - this reminds me of the unintended consequences of fire suppression in the national parks - trying to prevent problems from occurring at all makes the eventual conflagration all the greater.

Quote in context - the opening and closing paragraphs of the column:
ECONOMIC policy in the developed world over the past 25 years has followed one overriding principle: the avoidance of recession at all costs. For much of this period monetary policy was the weapon of choice. When markets wobbled, central banks slashed interest rates. A by-product of this policy was a series of debt-financed asset bubbles. When the last of those bubbles burst in 2007 and 2008, the authorities had to add fiscal stimulus and quantitative easing (QE) to the policy mix. The subsequent huge rise in budget deficits was largely the result of a collapse in tax revenues that had been artificially inflated by the debt-financed boom. Britain and America ended up with deficits of more than 10% of GDP, shortfalls that were unprecedented in peacetime.
. . . 
In a sense, the bill has come due for the past 25 years. A policy of avoiding small recessions has resulted in the biggest downturn since the 1930s. Public finances turned out to be weaker than politicians thought. As a result, they have used up all their ammunition tackling the current crisis. Governments in the rich world will have very few options left if the economy weakens again.
A great follow-up via Frank Pasquale:  Hyman Minsky said, "stability breeds instability."