30 November 2005

Introducing, Nucleo Boy! (Obituary)

In one of those crazy Friday afternoon thank-goodness-the-weekend-has-finally-come-gee-I -am-going-to-use-a-lot-of-dashes moods, I have decided to create my own self-fulfilling proffecy, namely, "this blog is going downhill, fast." Luckily it hasn't far to fall.

This just in...

In a freak nuclear accident, an american researcher was exposed to a high dosage of radiation while operating an off-site control room simulator. The source of the radiation is unknown, but the effects were quite clear. The photo below was taken just prior to spontaneous human meltdown, a controversial occurance that has never been caught on film (nor has it here).

Insignificant Microb, here I come.

29 November 2005

Magneto is no match for the Doritos Heroes!

Perhaps the only thing sadder than having spent the time putting together these almost 3d chip bag "action figures," is the time it took me to figure out how to construct Tempestade (Storm).

An ensemble of your favorite Doritos heroes. Wolverine, Tempestade, and Homem de Ferro

The economics of this situation (why Doritos put these in the bag instead of lowering the price, why I am eating Doritos and not Tostitos, why I put these things together and didn't spend the time looking for a job, etc) would cover nearly all the material for an introductory Economics course. The last italized part may cover the material for two Abnormal Psychology courses...

28 November 2005

The Little Prince... it's all relative

I have been reading O Pequeno Príncipe (or The Little Prince). In the story there is a prince that lives on a planet. In the illustrations it appears that his height is about 1/4 the diameter of the planet. At the moment I don't find the book particularly interesting so my mind wanders...

How would I behave if I suddenly found myself of a similar size on Earth (about 2000-ish miles tall)? I would think I would want to do the least damage possible and hopefully use my size for good, but how? Well I'd probably need to stand in the ocean because otherwise I'd crush millions of people with my 300 miles long feet. And eventually I'd need to sit down. The only viable place I can think of would be Antarctica. But in addition to killing lots of penguins, I'd melt the ice caps with my body heat and drown half the world's population (this is not to mention lying down to sleep where even if I did so in the ocean, I would displace enough water to cause big problems in low-lying coastal regions).

In fact, there doesn't appear to be much I could do without screwing up people's lives and the environment. So I'd probably take a big leap and hopefully eventually get to Mars. Only the equal and opposite force of the jump would probably send Earth careening out of its orbit and colliding with Venus. But if I had to do it I'd need a launch site. Iran came to mind first, but that's I realize 99.99% of the people there are awesome, so I probably again use Antartica. So really the best thing to do would be to somehow vaporize from existance (but without enough heat to ignite the atmosphere or anything like that).

Or better yet, just stop dreaming and find a job.

27 November 2005

Elasticity of Demand with respect to Transaction Costs

When transaction costs are high relative to the value of the good, you may find yourself doing rather strange things. Consider when you need one rubber band or one paper clip but you don't have one at the house. Obviously you aren't going to the store to buy one paper clip. That would take 30 minutes and you end up buying a whole package because they don't sell just one. So instead you engage in a work around activities.

I use a rubber band to secure my door key to my wrist when I go running. See below for my work around activity when the rubber band broke. To get an idea of the transaction costs of finding another rubber band, notice the number of iterations on the work around activity.

Count 'em... That's four knots.

24 November 2005

Things I would have bet against, turkey style

After every Thanksgiving meal in my memory, some one would bring up the sedative effects of Tryptophan in the Turkey as an explanation for everyone's drowsiness. In fact, it has almost become a cliché after dinner conversation on Turkey Day. Well folks, when the inevitable happens tonight, lay this one on the battle field (dinner table) to stir the crowd out of their (falsely attributed) stupor!

Operating under a new grading paradigm

In the U.S. a bad grade on a test is always a bummer. But alas, you suck it up and say, "I will do better on the next one. After all it is only the final grade that matters."

Here is quite a bit different. If your average on the first two test is a 7/10 or higher, you don't need to take the final. You pass the class and it's over. If your average is less than 7 but greater than 3 you must take the final which is weighted 50% of the overall grade. You will pass the class if you recieve an overall grade of 5 or higher.

Under this system the emphasis appears to be on passing. There is not a lot of worrying about grades so long as you pass. I finished my Applied Statistics II class with an 8/10, which was the average of my first two tests, so I "got" to skip the final. However, if an 8/10 translates into a B- in the U.S., then in the U.S. I would probably opt to take the final and perhaps improve my grade so my GPA doesn't suffer. But not here... I take my 8 and am just happy I don't have to take the final. Besides, the class credit transfers but not the grade.

I feel bad for the OSU students here, who's grades transfer too... Luckily for them, our program director is essentially making up the grade conversion table between the two universities. And with finals coming up, it may be a good time to take him out to dinner ;).

22 November 2005

Pascal's Wager... save your money.

The premise is simple enough. God either exists or He does not. If you believe in Him and He exists, in the next life you will have infinite happiness. If you believe but He does not exist, or you do not believe and He does exist, or you do not believe and He does not exist, then you gain some non-infinite happiness in life. [Described more rigorously here (pdf)]

As the math works out your expected value of believing is infinity, which means even if you are uncertain about the existence of God, you are better off believing (even if the probability He exists is extremely small). In the paper by Alex Tabarrok, linked above, Mr. Tabarrok makes an interesting offer. Let's say you are uncertain about God's existence and Alex comes along. He says, hey, I'll talk to God and help you get your foot in the door. According to the logic of Pascal's wager, not only should you take Alex's offer, but you should be willing to give him all your wealth for it... even if you think its possible that he doesn't really have pull with God (which he probably doesn't!). He is even kind enough to put his address at the bottom of the paper to recieve your checks! If it is hard to see why his argument works, and it was for me, read the paper... It is actually entertaining and really short.

The problem with all this talk surrounding Pascal's Wager is that the wager itself is weak. It rests on assumptions that are themselves uncertain. Why should we assume that belief in God, given He exists, will bring infinite utility (joy). Has he told you that? If you believe He has, then I would hope you also believe the other stuff He says to you too... which might help you understand the nature of belief.

For instance, perhaps you cannot believe just because you will it to be so. So even if you accept the wager, you cannot go from a state of unbelieving to believing. You need to believe in God first, to believe He can/will offer this eternal reward. If you think you don't need to believe first, then I might as well come up with Jeff's Wager which says I'll offer you infinite joy. Granted the probability is probably lower than in Pascal's Wager, you'd still have to accept it.

I think, help me figure this one out. Oh, and give me an equation to describe the nature of the universe. And I know I am taking a theoretical argument and trying to apply it to real life...

20 November 2005

Putting woman on the moon...

Don't look to rockets or mass elevators or rail guns... no, the answer lies in eastern European contortionists. While performing an experiment inspired by a recent numb3rs episode, I attempted to see how many times I could fold a piece of paper in half.

Answer: 7.
Thickness of paper before folds: .0001 m
Thickness after 7 folds: .0128 m
Surface Area (one-side) before folds: .05677 meters squared
Surface Area after folds: 4.4 E -4 meters squared

Let's now apply the same concept to our contortionist... To get to the moon we need to travel 385,000,000 meters. How many times does our contortionist have to bend and fold to get to the moon...

Thickness of contortionist : .15 m
Thickness after 31 folds: 322,122,547 m
Surface Area (one-side) before folds: .42 meters squared
Surface Area after folds: 3.9 E -10 meters squared

I don't know about you but that doesn't seems to hard to do! Granted our little contortionist would be very little after the folds, about the width of an atom...

18 November 2005

Two way to two...

I learned in Mr. Block's 9th grade geometry class that 1.999... = 2 . That is, "One point 9 repeating" is another way to write "two." Speaking of all this making sense but not agreeing stuff, and a recent comment by Anne on the same topic, I went in search for a proof. I found this discussion. Here are some clever attempts...
If x=1.999...infinity, then 10x=19.999...infinity. Subtracting 10x from x gives 9x=18. Dividing both sides results in x=2.

1.99.. does equal 2

1.99.. = 1.99..

1.99.. = 1+ .99..

1.99.. = 1 + 9 * .11..

1.99.. = 1 + 9 * 1/9

1.99.. = 1 + 1

1.99.. = 2
Because .9999... means a decimal with an infinite number of nines after it, the only possible value for 1-.9999... would be .0000000....1 in other words, an infinite number of zeroes..... followed by a one. Clearly, this is absurd, and therefore 1-.999999... must be zero.

As fun as these are, as far as I can tell, they aren't based on real math. I think 1.999... = 2 by definition.

12 November 2005

The Army supports the playing of Civilization IV

You may have heard of the recent release of Civ4, the newest edition of the the best PC game series ever, also widely accepted as the most addicting game ever. In fact, instead of the ESRB's rating of "Everyone 10+", I would suggest this more appropriate warning,

Everyone 10+ EXCEPT people with dependents, people in a relationship or trying to be in a relationship, people in school, people who work, people on a time sensitive medication schedule, and people that rely on food for subsistence.

Fortunately for this blog, Civ4 has not yet been released in Brazil, and so I will continue to update it until said game reaches the stores (Nov 15th). Granted that I find a way to get nourishment without leaving my computer, I'll still need a way to brush my teeth. This is where the US Army comes in. They are developing a chewing gum to replace tooth brushing. And they thought they were doing it for the soldiers in the field... well, I'm going to create my own world, build up my empire, and DOMINATE everone who gets in my way!!! So give me the gum NOW!

(You can download the DOMINATE link by following the instruction at the bottom of the download page... video is highly recommended.)

11 November 2005


Unsolicited e-mails are annoying, but thankfully spammers are not very clever and so it is easy to pick out and delete without having to read them. Usually by reading the first line of the e-mail you can tell it is spam. Here is one suggestion for the problem of generic spam salutations

Don't start the letter with Dear Valued Customer... which is a very common spam salutation. Instead try to guess the name of the recipient by using some version of the e-mail moniker. Many times you'll probably get the name right... such as with jsmith@rigthwingconspiracy.org. How about starting it Dear Mr. Smith if it is for Viagra or Dear Mrs. Smith if it is for flowers. Sure you may be wrong half the time or more, but if you do get it right you might earn just a bit more credibility... perhaps enough for the recipient to actually view the contents of the message.

Got any others?

07 November 2005

All I want for Christmas is... Thanksgiving

In the U.S. Christmas decorations rarely go up before Thanksgiving. However, lacking Thanksgiving, the Christmas spirit starts early in Brazil. The Rio Sul shopping mall aready has a huge display across the entire front of the building. So what do Amazonian and subtropical trees look like decked out in white lights and tinsel... I wouldn't know, because they use coniferous trees just like in the U.S. (no, I don't mean real ones)

06 November 2005

The value of guest bloggers

I've been debating contracting a guest blogger for the following reasons...

  1. I am a little dry on ideas right now. If you stop by my blog and don't see a new entry you may not think twice. If you do it several times in a row you might knock me off your list of sites to check. Then again perhaps it is unfair to demand your attention if I am not producing attention-worthy material.
  2. I want to get as many people I know involved in blogging as possible. This would give an opportunity to a non-blogger to get a feel for the medium without feeling committed to keeping up his/her own blog.
  3. Guest bloggers often have ideas "saved up" and offer a fresh breath to a stinky blog.
  4. Because I aspire to be like MarginalRevolution.

01 November 2005

It makes sense but I don't agree with it

A few years back my Dad told me about an advertisement for a radio program where in the announcer stated something like the following about a planned guest, "He makes sense but we don't necessarily agree with him." Over the insuing months this caused some heated debate at family/friend gatherings where it was brought up. I think, as of a year ago or so, it has been outlawed as a topic of convesation... so I am going to revive it now from the only place I safely can, 5000 miles away in Brazil.

Can you rationally believe that one's argument makes sense and yet not agree with it? Since the start of the argument, I have said "No, you cannot." I've been of the opinion that those that answer "Yes" to that question are confusing what it is really saying. Their argument usually goes something like this
I can see how they would think that. The argument makes sense to them. But I don't agree with it

Exactly! It makes sense to them, but not to YOU and so YOU do not agree with it because it doesn't make sense to YOU. A common counter to this statement is

Well perhaps they were talking about the theory of black holes. It may make sense but I cannot agree with it because I don't have enough knowledge in the area. It is just a theory after all, who knows if it is really true!

Unfortunately, this is just a more specific instance of the first argument, and hence not a counter at all. In this case the argument appears more valid because it is supported by someone with more specific knowledge on the subject. Perhaps the theory is correct or perhaps it is flawed. To say that a theory makes sense is to say you believe it adequately describes the observable domain. To agree with the theory has the same meaning. If you cannot say whether it adequately describes reality, then you should say neither that it makes sense to you nor that you agree with it.

I don't claim to be 100% certain that I am right on this, so let me issue a challenge: Find me an argument YOU think makes sense but with which to you do not agree.

Do I care about Learning?

Not enough to be a successful academic. Of the things I learn day to day, I most enjoy those that are new and big ideas. I do not hate the details, but my marginal propensity to learn details about new topics declines rapidly. Unfortunately, 99% of significant advances do not come from a new approach to life so much as from a new way of looking at one little detail. The effort expended to become fluent in the details of a particular field and hence get down to the building blocks of a significant advance, much less a meaningful contributions, is too great for me.

Yesterday, as I watched a collegue surf the iienet.org, a site about Industrial Engineering. Whereas I waste most of my time on MarginalRevolution.com or Slashdot.com. My sites carry insights and news more generally, while my collegue was directed to a field specific site. I am wondering if the diminishing marginal returns I experience from learning a particular field is a symptom of not having found the field that interests me enough. Or perhaps it is a symptom of a larger problem with my motivation to make meaningful contributions (and expend the effort necessary to do so).