Archive for March, 2010

Self-reference loops in contemporary publishing

March 29, 2010

Found by Razib Khan:


Mugged by reality

March 23, 2010

For a particularly risible example of an economist planting his flag in neighbouring territory (in this case, traffic flow and operations research) without bothering to check what the locals think first, here’s a bright idea from Joshua Gans of Melbourne Business School:

Imagine also (and I know this might be a stretch) that we all entered our route plans into the iPhone and those plans were uploaded into the cloud. Then all of this information could be aggregated and the ‘optimal’ route for each of us worked out so that traffic was minimised. We would then receive directions based on the centrally coordinated route and all be better off for it…

Now you wouldn’t be compelled to follow the instructions handed to you but if it was meaningful you would follow them anyway as it will likely make you at least weakly better off by doing so. That is, the routes handed down could be incentive compatible and also update in real time as others came into and out of the mix.

(emphasis added)

That’s some algorithm! I trust Josh will leave the engineering up to someone else.

Attention T-shaped people!

March 21, 2010

After an exhaustive product-development sequence, involving focus groups, double-blind testing and the like, the University of Melbourne has unveiled its new course, the Executive Master of Arts, designed for people who want a degree of influence in a world of expanding opportunities.

“Be open-minded enough to understand that the world of work needs the sorts of understandings that the humanities brings… Fortunately, I think we’re post-postmodernism now.”

The full sales experience, complete with tinkly music, can be found here.

Another promising young thinker

March 14, 2010

Sheesh, people are getting bent out of shape that Ben Naparstek, editor of The Monthly, published Louis Nowra on Germaine Greer.

I haven’t read any of it.

If you want some idea of Naparstek’s intellectual and moral credibility, here he is in the Jerusalem Post‘reviewing’ Norman Finkelstein:

He’s a far left academic with a strong support base among the Holocaust-denying right…

Finkelstein’s tract was initially ignored in the US but was translated into 17 languages and spent nine months on German bestseller lists…

Finkelstein boasts that The New York Times reviewed The Holocaust Industry more savagely than Hitler’s Mein Kampf

Finkelstein makes no pretense about his academic credentials…

But reasoned objectivity is not his aim, for Finkelstein is an angry man and writing is his therapy…

Finkelstein is untroubled about his work being embraced by neo-Nazis….

If Finkelstein was concerned about being a neo-Nazi pin-up, he wouldn’t use Nazi Germany as his most persistent analogy for Israel and the American Jewish lobby…

Finkelstein doesn’t hesitate to quote from Mein Kampf.

If you wanted a reliable new editor for the sort of lightweight, pretentious Australian publication that aspires to ‘relevance’, I’m sure this guy would appear the perfect candidate.

Increasing diagnostic precision?

March 13, 2010

Get in line, pal

March 6, 2010

Let’s say you’d like to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine. As you approach the bank, you see three terminals, with a customer using each one. A bunch of other people wait in a single queue, centred midway along the row of ATMs. You observe that one of the customers is very fast, zipping through the transaction; the other two seem to have trouble using their keypads and reading their screen prompts. Do you

  1. Commit to the “fastest” terminal, waiting directly behind the customer at that ATM
  2. Stick with the single, central queue, allowing the person at its head to use the first available ATM, whichever it is 

If you chose option 2 – thinking only it fulfills the strict first-in, first-out discipline behind this sort of queueing, or maximises average throughput – you’re probably a very frustrated person. Because most of us have other things on our mind than fairness or efficiency in queueing. We may need to get the next train, or be rushing to an appointment, or just not really feel like wasting time in a boring ATM line. Choosing option 1 can – if we cleverly pick the right line – allow us to skip ahead of others who arrived beforehand. And knowing that, even if we don’t, some bastard is sure to try this, most of us won’t bother with option 2, the single first-come first-served queue. For whatever reason, when faced with parallel servers (a row of ATMs, a counter full of cashiers at McDonald’s) people tend spontaneously to form multiple queues, one for each service point.

Nor is this really the customers’ fault. Multi-server, single-queue systems are becoming more familiar: they’re used for airport check-in, at most government offices (for e.g license renewal and registration), inside banks, and for the new automated checkouts at supermarkets. But each of these examples shows the importance of queue-area design (cordons, signs, buffer space) for engineering cooperation amongst those waiting in line. Customers are instructed to queue in a particular way, not left individually to choose between two options, then forced to argue it out when they disagree. It is impossible to be served in any order besides that in which you arrived, whatever the relative service speeds of the staff. (My ATM example is a little misleading, because the queue space usually backs onto a narrow footpath, making multiple parallel queues more sensible than a single long line. Where ATMs are located in an internal vestibule, however, single queues are more common.)

But look at this recent example from a Melbourne supermarket, which gives customers a huge, empty queueing space to play in, and says: sort yourselves out. Madness!

Stay classy, Tyler Cowen

March 4, 2010

Over at Marginal Revolution, when presented with a mediocre paper on computational complexity and the efficient markets hypothesis, Tyler Cowen responds with this:

Points like this seem to be rediscovered every ten years or so; I am never sure what to make of them.  What ever happened to Alain Lewis?

As Cowen surely knows, stuff like this happened to Alain Lewis as his research was derailed by mental problems, permitting much of the economics profession to ignore his work and dismiss broadly similar results as crackpot. 

So, really, that was about as subtle and considered an argumentative response as making a circular finger motion (loony!) around your ears.