From the monthly archives:

December 2009

Learn to program!

December 24, 2009

Following a post by Aleks Jakulin, I found a great site that presents an interactive Ruby prompt married to an extremely user-friendly tutorial: Try Ruby. I don't know Ruby at all, but I followed the tutorial for a bit and quickly felt comfortable with the basic syntax. I'm not a perfect candidate to judge this for […]

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Walmart ad math

December 23, 2009

Walmart is running ads right now which claim that shoppers who spend more than $100 per week at the supermarket would save $650 a year by purchasing their groceries at the giant retailer instead. That's quite a jumble of conditionals and varying metrics: you have to first meet the requirements of shopping at a supermarket […]

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One way, the wrong way

December 23, 2009

Every single street in Boston is one-way, the wrong way. At least, that's what I've believed since I lived there - no matter where you want to go, the roads that appear to form the most direct route will inevitably carry traffic only in the opposite direction. And somehow that remains true when you try […]

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Cameron and Jackson on CGI in film

December 23, 2009

Slate has posted a great interview with James Cameron and Peter Jackson - arguably the two leading directors when it comes to special effects in film (in fact, Jackson's Weta Workshop executed most of the FX shots for Cameron's Avatar). Of course, the discussion centers on an enthusiastic embrace of CGI, reflecting a belief that […]

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Modern confessionals

December 22, 2009

We all know that you can get some funny/interesting responses by typing the first part of a question into a major search engine's search box and letting it suggest the remainder. The NYT has gone so far as to investigate those suggestions themselves. I particularly enjoyed their description of search engines as "modern confessionals:" This […]

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Breathtaking

December 22, 2009

We've come a long way since Powers of Ten... (Also see the AMNH videos that this one is responding to for some more amazing visualizations.) (via Infosthetics)

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In space, no one can hear your gyroscopes

December 22, 2009

In a thoroughly exciting/depressing (depending on your perspective) article, Joseph Shoer has written up his thoughts on the realities of space combat - and it's not all about dogfights and laser beams. Instead, it's about spherical warships firing physical projectiles from a variety of orbits. Need to change direction? Save your thrusters - you have a giant […]

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Molehills out of mountains

December 21, 2009

The WSJ has crunched the numbers and concluded that: In nearly 200 years of recorded stock-market history, no calendar decade has seen such a dismal performance as the 2000s. Investors would have been better off investing in pretty much anything else, from bonds to gold or even just stuffing money under a mattress. Since the […]

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More mainstream Bayesians

December 20, 2009

The NYT recently ran an article on the math behind the recent and controversial mammogram advisory change. Unsurprisingly, it is heavily centered on a Bayesian argument. Of course, the key point here is not that the statistics dictated the change, but that budgets and political agendas dictated an acceptable level, which the statistics subsequently informed: […]

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Hypothetically speaking, of course

December 14, 2009

Aaron Swartz makes some good points about Google, but I just can't keep reading once he invokes a tactic I can't stand (and which sadly seems to be gaining currency): If Microsoft had Google’s market share in search, is there any doubt that they’d be systematically demoting or even banning their competitors in the search […]

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Professor Risk

December 13, 2009

David Spiegelhalter is the Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University. He has recently produced the following video to encourage better practices in the casual perception of risky behaviors: I think it's a brilliant video and would love to have been one of Professor Spegelhalter's students. I firmly believe that the study […]

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Google Phone addendum

December 13, 2009

CrunchGear may be focusing on the hardware, I'm going to focus on the competition: the most salient outcome of Google's decision not to partner with a carrier is that people will be able to discriminate among carriers based on network quality rather than phone features. This is big (though lest I sound hypocritical, I dont […]

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The Google Phone: this doesn't change very much at all (yet)

December 13, 2009

In their usual over-enthusiasm for all things with touchscreens (too soon?), CrunchGear has been gushing over Google's rumored phone. Google has confirmed that they are working on "a device" without further specifics. That hasn't stopped CrunchGear from actually writing: ...if and when Google starts selling this thing, prepare for some of the strangest – and […]

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Parallel processing

December 11, 2009

Via Spontaneous Symmetry, a fascinating story about parallel processing and the power of blogging: Normally, when [a mathematician] seeks a proof, he locks himself in a room with a chalkboard for long periods of time. He may consult his peers at his university, he may read books, he may look through papers, but the majority […]

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"I" before "E" except after "Treasur"

December 11, 2009

From a WSJ opinion lamenting the state of Manhattan Chinese food (of all things): Walk through New York's Chinatowns—there are two—and you'd think that the Chinese don't know about fine dining. Here it's all about shared tables at food stalls and loud, crowded dining halls that feel trapped in an era when Mao was still […]

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Progressive taxation

December 9, 2009

The UK's plan to tax banker bonuses at 50% is really quite clever. The tax is borne by the employer, not the employee, and so the following results: Bankers keep their bonuses, and the incentive structure (for better or worse) remains intact... Taxpayers extract value from the bank, and populist rage (somewhat) subsides... Shareholders suffer. […]

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The new kid

December 9, 2009

Google Chrome for Mac has finally been released (in beta, but who's complaining?) and I've been testing it as my primary browser. It's already my top choice on Windows (this development making it all the more sweeter) and I have to say - once you use a combined address/search bar, there's absolutely no going back. […]

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Airbus Fixes Mandated

December 6, 2009

This article ran in the print version of the Wall Street Journal with the headline "Airbus Fixes Mandated." After reading it, I wondered "Airbus fixes mandated what?" But I was wrong. I read "Fixes" as a verb and "Mandated" as an adjective. The headline writer had intended for "Fixes" to be a noun and "Mandated" […]

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