From the category archives:


Turing's Cathedral

June 27, 2012

I've just finished Turing's Cathedral, a wonderful new book by George Dyson about John von Neumann's team at Princeton that built one of the first computers. In the title chapter, there are a few excellent quotes: "I asked [Turing] under what circumstances he would say that a machine is conscious," Jack Good recalled in 1956. "He […]

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September 19, 2011

I'm a huge fan of Tom Lehrer and have mentioned him a number of times before. I just came across an interview with him from 2000 in which he discussed his dual life as a mathematician and performer. I especially loved this quote, on the concept of "elegance" in mathematics: I think the construction part, […]

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Words to live by

July 2, 2011

"Hope" is not an investment strategy.

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Never more true than today

January 10, 2010

In his Chart Wars talk, Alex Lundry mentions a quote which he attributes to H. G. Wells: Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write. However, that statement was actually made by Samuel Wilks, who was paraphrasing a line in Wells' book Mankind in the […]

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QOTD: cryptoracist edition

October 16, 2009

A Louisiana justice of the peace refused to marry an interracial couple. Trying to defend his actions, he then stated: "I try to treat everyone equally." The mind boggles.

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The rise of VaR

October 1, 2009

Simon Johnson and James Kwak take a look at how VaR got to be so popular in the first place. They make the insightful observation that a bad (or at least an incomplete) model can gain acceptance not only because of its simplicity but, oddly, because of its output as well. Indeed, VaR succeeded not […]

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May 21, 2009

From my favorite 5-book trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in […]

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QOTD: March of Progress edition

May 18, 2009

Just received this gchat from MB: i'm on a virgin america flight with wifi And now I know exactly how Alexander Graham Bell felt when he called Mr. Watson in 1876.

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The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

May 16, 2009

I would be remiss if I didn't follow my last post by publishing the excellent passage that reveals that the answer to life, the universe and everything is, in fact, 42. This excerpt is from chapter 27 of Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Deep Thought is a computer that has been figuring […]

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QOTD: cow tipping edition

May 13, 2009

Michelle Obama is speaking at UC Merced's commencement, and it is big news for the relatively low-profile school. But the best line from the NYT's coverage is this, describing the setting of the graduation activities: ...the campus, which sits in a former cattle field surrounded by hay-laden farmland and cows of unknown political leanings.

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QOTD: anecdotal evidence edition

April 21, 2009

Few things bother me more than the use of random or one-off stories as evidence. Reasoning like that does absolutely nothing to sway me, and I'll probably just mumble something about Taleb's Fooled by Randomness. In a somewhat related post, Megan McArdle put it succinctly: The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". Brilliant.

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The Nothingth

April 14, 2009

The reference in the last post was to an obscure HHG2G quote from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, as Zaphod Beeblebrox, the fugitive President of the Galaxy, tries to summon his great-grandfather's ghost: "Concentrate," hissed Zaphod, "on his name." "What is it?" asked Arthur. "Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth." "What?" "Zaphod Beeblebrox the […]

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Whatever Happened, Happened

April 2, 2009

Excellent quote from (my favorite and yours) Douglas Adams' The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Anything that happens, happens. Anthing that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again. It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though. What does […]

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It's never too late for Stats 101

March 26, 2009

Google's Chief Economist, Hal Varian, on jobs in the upcoming decade (emphasis mine): 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 […]

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All models are wrong

February 27, 2009

George Box, renowned statistician, acutely observed: Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

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Or perhaps his aim

February 24, 2009

All this talk of models and their interpretation reminds me of a saying: Sometimes the problem is not the arrow, but the Indian.

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A Few Greedy Men

February 11, 2009

Classic email I received from R (and if you don't know, now you know): I picture the following dramatic scene unfolding later today: Barney Frank: What did Paulson tell you? Ken Lewis: [stonefaced] Barney Frank: WHAT DID PAULSON SAY TO YOU IN YOUR MEETING IN MID-DECEMBER? Ken Lewis: You want answers? Barney Frank: I think […]

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I could say the same about that metaphor

February 2, 2009

The NYTimes had an article today rehashing the super bowl ads (surprise!). It contained this paragraph early on: Few commercials that ran during Super Bowl XLIII on NBC offered viewers anything special. To paraphrase a line from the movie “Sabrina,” you could pick some ads out of a hat blindfolded and come up with better […]

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Biden's a little upset about this

February 2, 2009

How exclusive is President Obama's new Blackberry? "Everyone look at the person sitting on your left. Now look at the person sitting on your right. None of you have my e-mail address." Via the NYTimes.

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"It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong."

January 31, 2009

Despicable though his character may have been, Keynes said some remarkable things, the title of this post among them. He also uttered the cliched investing mottos regarding animal spirits and beauty contests -- true statements all, but widely abused by financial textbooks. My favorite, which remains somewhat unknown despite its enormous relevance, is: The market […]

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We are all Keynesians now

January 31, 2009

NPR has an interesting article titled "Obama Gives Keynes His First Real-World Test."  I'm not convinced that's entirely accurate, it appears to be missing an appropriate disclaimer -- Keynesian economics played a large role in the New Deal (though, the article suggests, not enough of one).  Richard Nixon (yes, him again) famously declared in 1972 […]

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The movie makes it more dramatic

January 29, 2009

I'm reminded at this time (thanks, no doubt, to previews for Ron Howard's movie Frost/Nixon) of this gem from Richard Nixon: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal. And thanks to the magic of YouTube:

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I got better

January 26, 2009

And because I can't get enough animal transformations, here's one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Sir Bedevere: What makes you think she is a witch? Peasant: Well, she turned me into a newt! Sir Bedevere: A newt? Peasant:...I got better.

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Raise your hand if you want to get rich

January 26, 2009

Speaking of Nigeria, here's one of the most classic opening scenes of The Office: Toby: Didn't you lose a lot of money on that other investment? The one from the email? Michael: You know what, Toby? When the son of the deposed king of Nigeria emails you directly, asking for help, you help! His father […]

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Speaking of deadlines...

January 14, 2009

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. -Douglas Adams

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Then again, Shakespeare never was much of a scientist

May 11, 2008

With reference to a New Scientist article: From: xxxxxxx Date: Sun, May 11, 2008 at 8:20 PM Subject: New Scientist Feedback 10 May 2008 To: Feedback: In closing your piece (New Scientist 10 May 2008) on Russ Andrews commissioning a research scientist to provide evidence supportive of his claims regarding mains power cables, you state […]

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Cordially, Future Dwight

March 23, 2008
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Arthur C. Clarke: A Space Odyssey

March 19, 2008

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke, one of my favorite authors, passed away yesterday at 90.  Not only did he write some of the most influential books of the last century (even sharing an Oscar nomination with Stanley Kubrik for 2001), but he was an extremely gifted academic and futurist […]

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Sponsored by Michael Dell

March 10, 2008

Random plug in my CFA textbook: Quality lies on a spectrum that runs from high to low. Some firms -- such as Dell Computer Corp. -- offer high-quality products. They are well designed and reliable, and the customer receives quick and efficient service. Um, right. Needless to say, the material isn't particularly challenging (so far).

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Ohio: bellwether or fairweather?

March 5, 2008

Hillary Clinton made an interesting comment in her victory speech last night: [Ohio] is a state that knows how to pick a president. And no candidate in recent history, Democrat or Republican, has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary. When Hillary originally made this statement to an Ohio TV station, she omitted […]

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