Posted by: Tobias | March 5, 2009

Wall Street on the Tundra

From Michael Lewis’ portrait of Iceland, the tiny and incredibly quirky country that was at the epicenter of the financial crisis:

Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.” The other, more serious problem was the Icelandic male: he took more safety risks than aluminum workers in other nations did. “In manufacturing,” says the spokesman, “you want people who follow the rules and fall in line. You don’t want them to be heroes. You don’t want them to try to fix something it’s not their job to fix, because they might blow up the place.” The Icelandic male had a propensity to try to fix something it wasn’t his job to fix.

Back away from the Icelandic economy and you can’t help but notice something really strange about it: the people have cultivated themselves to the point where they are unsuited for the work available to them. All these exquisitely schooled, sophisticated people, each and every one of whom feels special, are presented with two mainly horrible ways to earn a living: trawler fishing and aluminum smelting. There are, of course, a few jobs in Iceland that any refined, educated person might like to do. Certifying the nonexistence of elves, for instance. (“This will take at least six months—it can be very tricky.”) But not nearly so many as the place needs, given its talent for turning cod into Ph.D.’s. At the dawn of the 21st century, Icelanders were still waiting for some task more suited to their filigreed minds to turn up inside their economy so they might do it.

Posted by: Tobias | March 5, 2009

No to war crimes, not even virtual ones

File this under things I will torture my kids with should I ever have some:

Four times a week, 13-year-old Evan Spencer and his buddies rush to their Xboxes to play Call of Duty, the violent, popular sniper game set in the Second World War.

While some of his friends shoot enemies long after they're down, or spray bullets indiscriminately, Evan does not. He can't – or he'll violate the Geneva Conventions his parents insist he follow, and be cut off from the game he so dearly loves.

Posted by: sepalot | March 4, 2009

Happy (belated) Square Root Day!

Square Root Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated on days when both the day of the month and the month are the square root of the last two digits of the year. For example, the last Square Root Day was March 3, 2009 (3/3/09), and the next Square Root Day will be April 4, 2016 (4/4/16). […]

One suggested way of celebrating the holiday is by eating square radishes, or other root vegetables cut into shapes with square cross sections (thus creating a “square root”).

from Wikipedia via Greg Mankiw.

Very nerdy!

Posted by: Tobias | March 2, 2009

Small steps towards stabilization

Turns out the EU cut its CO2 emissions by 3 percent last year, which is great progress. I guess all we have to do now is have a recession continuously for the next 40 years and we’ll be well on our way to hitting that stabilization target (the emissions one, probably not the temperature one).

Update: Never mind, turns out I’m being way too cynical

Posted by: Tobias | March 1, 2009

Flight Patterns

This video of flight patterns over the continental United States is absolutely mesmerizing. You can see the big hubs and the major flight routes, you can even see the when the sun rises and sets throughout the country.

Posted by: Tobias | February 26, 2009

Dear Mrs. Dentist (Dentiste?),

it is easy to win an argument with an economist about the benefits of international trade if said economist is both under the influence of local anesthetics and has several instruments in his mouth that, you know, prevent him from making any sounds more sophisticated than grunts.

Posted by: Tobias | February 24, 2009

Replication in economics

Felix Salmon has the latest on the woefully inadequate replicability of most economic studies:

The important point is the bigger one: scientists are being far too selfish with their data, and most empirical papers aren’t replicable in any kind of realistic sense. This is a big problem, especially given that the peer-review process generally makes no attempt to check on the quality of data or the computations that are done with it.

Or, as Daniel Hamermesh once put it: “Economists treat replication the way teenagers treat chastity—as an ideal to be professed but not to be practiced.”

Posted by: Tobias | February 24, 2009

Most Unwanted Scrobbles, for those who don’t yet know it, is an awesome service that keeps track of what music you listen to on your computer (via a little utility called “the Scrobbler”) and then allows you to share that listening history with your friends and family. After you’ve used it for a bit, it will also give you recommendations on what other bands you might enjoy and show you gigs your favorite bands are playing in your vicinity. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately, for example.

Ever once in a while, of course, everyone listens to songs that are just too embarrassing for others to see. That damn catchy pop tune you can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try, that inexplicable late-night yearning for some Elvis or that time when you needed a Backstreet Boys song for you and your friends to sing Karaoke to (the song to which, strangely, everyone knew the lyrics from beginning to end).

And so let you remove such songs manually. But not before logging which songs were removed and then compiling a list of most unwanted scrobbles, the crowd’s Hall of Shame if you will.

Most of these songs are exactly what you would expect. There’s your Britney, your Rihana, My Chemical Romance and the like. But I’m not ashamed to admit that among the Top 50 on the list, there’s probably about 10 tracks I continue to scrobble unashamedly.

Posted by: Tobias | February 24, 2009

A Day in the Life of Abbey Road

(via a bunch of other blogs)

Posted by: Tobias | February 24, 2009

Richard Dawkins interviews Steven Weinberg

Superb dialogue with the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, on physics, religion, the origin of life and evolution.

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