Category Archives: Reading Lists

Reading List for 23 September 2013

Arnold Kling :: Big Gods

Here is a question to think about. If religions help to create social capital by allowing people to signal conscientiousness, conformity, and trustworthiness [as Norenzayan claims], how does this relate to Bryan Caplan’s view that obtaining a college degree performs that function?

That might explain why the credentialist societies of Han China were relatively irreligious. Kling likes to use the Vickies/Thetes metaphor from Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, and I think this dichotomy could play well with that. Wouldn't the tests required by the Reformed Distributed Republic fill this role, for instance?

Ariel Procaccia :: Alien journals

Steve Landsburg :: RIP, Ronald Coase

This is by far the best, simplest explanation of Coase's insights that I have read. Having read plenty of Landsburg, that should not — indeed does not — surprise me.

His final 'graph is a digression, but a good point:

Coase’s Nobel Prize winning paper is surely one of the landmark papers of 20th century economics. It’s also entirely non-technical (which is fine), and (in my opinion) ridiculously verbose (which is annoying). It’s littered with numerical examples intended to illustrate several different but related points, but the points and the examples are so jumbled together that it’s often difficult to tell what point is being illustrated... Pioneering work is rarely presented cleanly, and Coase was a true pioneer.

And this is why I put little stock in "primary sources" when it comes to STEM. The intersection between people/publications who originate profound ideas and people/publications which explain profound ideas well is a narrow one. If what you want is the latter, don't automatically mistake it for the former. The best researchers are not the best teachers, and this is true as much for papers as it is for people.

That said, sometimes the originals are very good. Here are two other opinions on this, from Federico Pereiro and John Cook.

Prosthetic Knowledge ::

Start a font by tweaking all glyphs at once. With more than twenty parameters, design custom classical or experimental shapes. Once prototyping of the font is done, each point and curve of a glyph can be easily modified. Explore, modify, compare, export with infinite variations.

I liked this better when it was called Metafont.

Sorry, I couldn't resist some snark. I actually do like this project. I love both Processing and typography, so why wouldn't I? Speaking of which...

Hoefler & Frere-Jones :: Pilcrow & Capitulum

Some sample pilcrows from the H&FJ foundry.
Some sample pilcrows from the H&FJ foundry.

Eric Pement :: Using SED to make indexes for books

That's some impressive SED-fu.

Mike Duncan :: Revolutions Podcast

(Okay, so technically this may not belong on a "reading list.") Duncan previously created The History of Rome podcast, which is one of my favorites. Revolutions is his new project, and it just launched. Get on board now.

Kenneth Moreland :: Diverging Color Maps for Scientific Visualization [pdf]

Ardi, Tan & Yim :: Color Palette Generation for Nominal Encodings [pdf]

These two have been really helpful in the new visualization project I'm working on.

Andrew Shikiar :: Predicting Kiva Loan Defaults

Brett Victor :: Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction: A Systematic Approach to Interactive Visualization

This would be a great starting place for high-school or freshmen STEM curricula. As a bonus, it has this nice epigraph from Richard Hamming:

"In science, if you know what you are doing, you should not be doing it. In engineering, if you do not know what you are doing, you should not be doing it. Of course, you seldom, if ever, see either pure state."

Megan McArdle :: 13 Tips for Jobless Grads on Surviving the Basement Years

I'm at the tail end of a doctoral program and going on the job market. This is good advice. What's disappointing is that this would have been equally good and applicable advice for people going on the job market back when I started grad school. The fact that we're five years (!!) down the road and we still have need of these sorts of "surviving in horrid job markets" pieces is bleak.

Posted in Reading Lists | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading List for 16 July 2013

Evan Miller :: Winkel Tripel Warping Trouble or "How I Found a Bug in the Journal of Surveying Engineering"

All programming blogs need at least one post unofficially titled “Indisputable Proof That I Am Awesome.” These are usually my favorite kind of read, as the protagonist starts out with a head full of hubris, becomes mired in self-doubt, struggles on when others would have quit, and then ultimately triumphs over evil (that is to say, slow or buggy computer code), often at the expense of personal hygiene and/or sanity.

I'm a fan of the debugging narrative, and this is a fine example of the genre. I've been wrestling with code for mapping projections recently, so I feel Miller's pain specifically. In my opinion the Winkel Tripel is mathematically gross, but aesthetically unsurpassed. Hopefully I'll find some time in the next week or so to put up a post about my mapping project.

Irene Global Tweets WInkel Tripel
A screenshot of a project I've been working on to map geotagged tweets.

Kevin Grier :: Breaking down the higher ed wage premium

wage premium by major
Wage premium and popularity of majors

File under "all college degrees are not created equal" or perhaps "no, junior, you may not borrow enough to buy a decent house in order to get a BA in psych."

Aleatha Parker-Wood :: One Shot vs Iterated Games

Social cohesion can be thought of as a manifestation of how "iterated" people feel their interactions are, how likely they are to interact with the same people again and again and  have to deal with long term consequences of locally optimal choices, or whether they feel they can "opt out" of consequences of interacting with some set of people in a poor way.

Mike Munger :: Grade Inflation? Some data

Munger links to some very good analysis but it occurs to me that what is really needed is the variance of grades over time and not just the mean. (Obviously these two things are related since the distribution is bounded by [0, 4]. A mean which has gone from 2.25 to 3.44 will almost certainly result in less variance here.)

I don't much care where the distribution is centered. I care how wide the distribution is — that's what lets observers distinguish one student from another. Rankings need inequality. Without it they convey no information.

Marginal Revolution :: Alex Tabarrok :: The Battle over Junk DNA

I share Graur's and Tabarrok's wariness over "high impact false positives" in science. This is a big problem with no clear solutions.

The Graur et al. paper that Tabarrok discusses is entertaining in its incivility. Sometimes civility is not the correct response to falsehoods. It's refreshing to see scientists being so brutally honest with their opinions. Some might say they are too brutal, but at least they've got the honest part.

Peter McCaffrey :: 5 reasons price gouging should be legal: Especially during disasters

McCaffrey is completely right. But good luck to him reasoning people out of an opinion they were never reasoned into in the first place.

I do like the neologism "sustainable pricing" that he introduces. Bravo for that.

I would add a sixth reason to his list: accusations of "price gouging" are one rhetorical prong in an inescapable triple bind. A seller has three MECE choices: price goods higher than is common, the same as is common, or lower than is common. These choices will result in accusations of price gouging, collusion, and anti-competitive pricing, respectively. Since there is no way to win when dealing with people who level accusations of gouging, the only sensible thing to do is ignore them.

Shawn Regan :: Everyone calm down, there is no “bee-pocalypse”

Executive summary: apiarists have agency, and the world isn't static. If the death rate of colonies increases, they respond by creating more colonies. Crisis averted.

Eliezer Yudkowsky :: Betting Therapy

"Betting Therapy" should be a thing. You go to a betting therapist and describe your fears — everything you're afraid will happen if you do X — and then the therapist offers to bet money on whether it actually happens to you or not. After you lose enough money, you stop being afraid.

Sign me up.

Posted in Reading Lists | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading List for 28 May 2013

For Science!

This is me right now seemingly all the time.

Patrick Morrison & Emerson Murphy-Hill :: Is Programming Knowledge Related To Age? An Exploration of Stack Overflow [pdf]

As a CS guy who's tip-toed into psychology here and there I would offer Morrison & Murphy-Hill this advice: tread very, very lightly when making claims regarding the words "knowledge" and especially "intelligence."

Playing_forever :: Playing Forever

I'm glad I didn't know about this in the winter of 2003, when I engaged in intense bouts of Tetris as a weird form of post-modern zazen. I still remember the guy who used to sit in front of me in Linear Algebra wore a tattersall shirt every single class, and I would see tetrominos cascading down his back.

RWCG :: What Brown-Vitter are asking for

This is why I want legislators & regulators who have played some strategy games. I want people making rules who have the habit of thinking, "If I do this, what is the other guy going to do? Surely he won't simply keep doing the things he was doing before I changed the environment. And surely not the exact the thing that I hope he does. What if he responds by...?"

Stephen Landsburg :: Seven Trees in One

We started with a weird pseudo-equation, manipulated it as if it were meaningful, transformed it into a series of statements that were either meaningless or clearly false, and out popped something that happened to be true. What Blass essentially proved (and Fiore and Leinster generalized) is, in effect, is that this is no coincidence. More specifically, they’ve proved in a very broad context that if you manipulate this kind of equation, pretending that sets are numbers and not letting yourself get ruffled by the illegitimacy of everything you’re doing, the end result is sure to be either a) obviously false or b) true.

Scott Weingart :: Friends don’t let friends calculate p-values (without fully understanding them)

My (very briefly stated) problem with p-values is that they combine size-of-effect and effort-in-experiment into one scalar. (This has been in the news a lot lately with the Oregon Medicaid study. Was the effect of Medicaid on blood pressure, glucose levels, etc. insignificant because Medicaid doesn't help much or because the sample size was too small? Unsurprising peoples' answers to this question are perfectly correlated with all of their prior political beliefs.)

One of the pitfalls of computational modeling is that it allows researchers to just keeping churning out simulation runs until their results are "significant." Processor cycles get shoveled into the model's maw until you have enough results to make even a tiny observed effect fit in under that magical p=0.05 limit. In theory everyone knows this isn't kosher, but "in theory" only takes us so far.

Colin Eatock :: A North American's Guide to the use and abuse of the modern PhD

Eatock specifically means the use and abuse of the letters "PhD" as a postnominal, and the appellation "Doctor," not uses/abuses of doctoral programs eo ipso.

I'm not big on titles ("The rank is but the guinea's stamp / The Man's the gowd for a' that"). Once I've defended I'll probably make one hotel reservation as "Dr. Sylvester" just so I've done it and gotten it out of my system.

I am irked by people claiming that a non-medical doctorate is somehow "not real" though. "Doctor," like most words, has several meanings. What kind of semiotic/linguistic authority are they to declare which one is "real" and which isn't? Thanks, but they can leave their self-serving grammatical prescriptivism out of this.

Scott Aaronson :: D-Wave: Truth finally starts to emerge

Suppose that... it eventually becomes clear that quantum annealing can be made to work on thousands of qubits, but that it’s a dead end as far as getting a quantum speedup is concerned. Suppose the evidence piles up that simulated annealing on a conventional computer will continue to beat quantum annealing, if even the slightest effort is put into optimizing the classical annealing code. If that happens, then I predict that the very same people now hyping D-Wave will turn around and—without the slightest acknowledgment of error on their part—declare that the entire field of quantum computing has now been unmasked as a mirage, a scam, and a chimera. The same pointy-haired bosses who now flock toward quantum computing, will flock away from it just as quickly and as uncomprehendingly. Academic QC programs will be decimated, despite the slow but genuine progress that they’d been making the entire time in a “parallel universe” from D-Wave.

I think Aaronson is right to worry about that possibility. That's essentially what caused the "AI Winter." I'd hate to see that happen to QC.

Posted in Reading Lists | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reading List for 2 May 2013

Marginal Revolution :: Tyler Cowen :: Is there a shortage of STEM workers in the United States?

Simplified analogy: I'm not bidding up the price of quadcopters. That doesn't mean that if we had more of them I wouldn't find cool stuff to do with them.

(For other takes on this see Ian Hathaway and Alex Tabarrok.)

The paper Cowen is responding to states: "The annual number of computer science graduates doubled between 1998 and 2004, and is currently over 50 percent higher than its 1998 level." Another way to describe this situation is "The annual number of CS graduates has fallen by a quarter in less than a decade." That gives a rather different spin than the authors formulation.

Taschen information graphics bookUncrate :: Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen

Recommended. Both useful and pretty. There aren't many books I've gotten from the UMD library for work that I'm happy to leave on the coffee table.

Christopher Rowe. "The new library of Babel? Borges, digitisation and the myth of the universal library." First Monday, 18(2). 2013.

As a general rule, I'm skeptical of papers that make heavy use of vocabulary like "problematise." But another general rule is that Borges' "Library of Babel" is amazing, so...

HBR Blogs :: Grant McCracken :: Is Timex Suffering the Early Stages of Disruption?

Bloomberg :: Virginia Postrel :: Dove’s Fake New 'Real Beauty' Ads

Dove did a great job of rhetoric but then they had to go and dishonestly cloak it in the banners of Science.

Physics Buzz :: Chris Gorski :: Physicist Proposes New Way To Think About Intelligence

Wissner-Gross calls the concept at the center of the research "causal entropic forces." These forces are the motivation for intelligent behavior. They encourage a system to preserve as many future histories as possible. For example, in the cart-and-rod exercise, Entropica controls the cart to keep the rod upright. Allowing the rod to fall would drastically reduce the number of remaining future histories, or, in other words, lower the entropy of the cart-and-rod system. Keeping the rod upright maximizes the entropy. It maintains all future histories that can begin from that state, including those that require the cart to let the rod fall.

I'm not sure I buy this, but I'll hold judgement until I read the Phys Rev Lett paper. I do know this though: there are already about 10,000 different definitions of "entropy" in different fields, and that causes no end of inter-disciplinary confusion. I'm not looking forward to having to keep track of another.

Growth Matters :: Clement Wan :: Experiments in Education

io9 :: A map of U.S. roads and nothing else

map of us roads

Check out the full res version.

Posted in Reading Lists | Leave a comment

Reading List for 26 April 2013

Tom Murphy :: learnfun & playfun: A general technique for automating NES games


Here's the conference paper [pdf].

This suggested to me that it may be time to automate the playing of NES games, in order to save time. (Rather, to replace it with time spent programming.)

Ha! I've done that with some (far, far simpler) Android games (e.g. Six Towers, Flow). Beating them is satisfying. Figuring out the rules which best beat them is more satisfying. Teaching those rules to an idiot-savant computer is more satisfying yet.

NYTimes :: William Poundstone :: Unleashing the Power — ‘Turing’s Cathedral,’ by George Dyson

At his 1926 doctoral exam, the mathematician David Hilbert is said to have asked but one question: “Pray, who is the candidate’s tailor?” He had never seen such beautiful evening clothes.

Amazing. I hope my defense is 1% this awesome. I'm seriously considering paying one of my friends to ask this during my talk, just to see how the committee reacts. (Via John Cook)

Stack Overflow :: John Skeet Facts

  • When Jon Skeet points to null, null quakes in fear.
  • The Dining Philosophers wait while Jon Skeet eats.
  • Q: Can Jon Skeet ask a question that even Jon Skeet can't answer?
    A: Yes. And he can answer it, too.
  • Jon Skeet does not use exceptions when programming. He has not been able to identify any of his code that is not exceptional.
  • Jon Skeet can throw an exception further than anyone else, and in less time.
  • Jon Skeet only solves NP-awesome problems.
  • There simply is no Halting Problem within a 10-meter radius of Jon Skeet, because computers are rightfully afraid to halt in his presence.
  • Jon Skeet is beyond Turing-complete; he is Turing-invincible.

True to form, John Skeet's answers are the best ones on the page.

Moneyness :: JP Koning :: Why the Fed is more likely to adopt bitcoin technology than kill it off

e-Literate :: Elijah Mayfield :: Six Ways the edX Announcement Gets Automated Essay Grading Wrong

This could be usefully referenced after pretty much any media discussion of Machine Learning systems.

Turing's Invisible Hand :: Reshef Meir :: Should technical errors disqualify conference papers?

Ken Norton :: How to Work with Software Engineers

Huub de Beer :: Using LaTeX as a Historian

Of all the things I'm worried about w.r.t. transitioning out of academia and into the private sector, potentially being forced to write things in Word again is very, very high on the list. Please, future employer, do not condemn me to the swamps and mires of WYSIAYG.

Posted in Reading Lists | Leave a comment

Reading List for 11 April 2013

StackOverflow :: Strangest language feature

JavaScript: I love you, but what the hell? Just... why?

A lot of the oddities listed here are aggressively, in-your-face strange or so quirky you'd never know they're there unless you seek them out. The JavaScript ones would make good examples if Hannah Arendt were to re-write Banality of Evil but make it about 21st century coding: strange enough to be dangerous, but normal enough to be insidious. (Via JamulBlog)

HBR Blog Network :: David Court :: The Case for Crafting a Big Data Plan

The Endeavor :: John D Cook :: How loud is the evidence?

New career goal — get a paper published in which I report my results in decibels.

Coyote Blog :: Warren Meyer :: Government Prioritization Fail: Adding Staff When It Is Least Essential

Marginal Revolution :: Alex Tabarrok :: A Brilliant New Method of Price Discrimination: Flip to Fly

Brilliant indeed. Sign me up.

Would this be better or worse, for both consumers and airlines, if you could list <i>n</i> potential destinations instead of just two?

Turing's Invisible Hand :: Ariel Procaccia :: The economic Turing test

Over a recent lunch, Boris Bukh suggested the following variant of the Turing test: a human and a computer play a game (in the game-theoretic sense). A judge who is observing only their moves must decide with confidence who is the human and who is the computer. The premise is that the human would play irrationally (he’s just a random person off the street), and the computer’s goal is to also play irrationally to avoid detection.

A couple of years ago I worked on an IARPA-funded project which was trying to model cognitive biases of intelligence analysts. They were sinking a lot of money into what Procaccia cleverly calls "Artificial Stupidity."

The Economist: Babbage :: G.F. :: Stick a pin on it

Charlie Lloyd's Map of of Cape Morris Jesup
Charlie Lloyd's Map of of Cape Morris Jesup

When Charlie Loyd wanted a job at a mapping firm, he did not send out resumés or make calls. Instead, he posted a message on Twitter that linked to a side-by-side comparison of satellite imagery of Cape Morris Jesup, Greenland's northernmost tip. On the left was a lacklustre image with no real detail captured by a NASA satellite and widely used by Mr Loyd's prospective employers; on the right, his own version.

This is inspiring. Literally, it gives me inspiration for ways to up my chances of getting hired.

JamulBlog :: Password Fail

Wow. That is amateurishly bad. I really hope Fidelity is better at managing money than they are at managing crypto.

I'm routinely surprised (is such a thing possible?) at how lax security is on banking websites. As an example, of the seven different financial institutions I log into weekly, BofA is the only one that bothers to authenticate itself to me. It's 2013. Is two-way auth really that much to ask?


How did I not know writeLaTeX existed? This is useful stuff.

(Sidenote: check out this foldable dodecahedron calendar someone created with just a few lines of TikZ.)

Posted in Reading Lists | Leave a comment

Reading List for 2 Apr 2013

Alan Winfield's Web Log :: Extreme debugging — a tale of microcode and an oven

"Components on the CPU circuit board were melting, but still it didn't crash. So that's how I debugged code with an oven."

If that's not a closing line that gets you to click through, I don't know what is.

Forbes :: Tomio Geron :: Quantopian Brings Algorithmic Trading To The Masses

Why didn't this exist five years ago? I would have had *so* much fun. But no, it can't get invented until I'm up to my ears in dissertation and have already adopted half a dozen new hobbies in the last two years. (Via the Lab49 Blog)

Marginal Revolution :: Alex Tabarrok :: Cognitive Democracy: Condorcet with Competence

More generally, if the voter competences levels are \{p_1, p_2, p_3\} then the cognitively most efficient voting scheme gives each voter a weight of \log \left(p_i/(1-p_i)\right) the result is remarkable for a being such a simple formula of the voter’s own competence level.

There are a ton of links between voting, structured finance, and machine learning ensembles. For example, the logit equation Tabarrok gives is also used to weight members of Bayesian Model Combination ensembles, and is closely related to the weighting scheme used in AdaBoost.

I have every intention of writing about the overlaps between these topics one day, but until that day...

Thomas C. Leonard's review of Nudge [pdf]

Leonard's critique is brilliant in its simplicity. RTWT.

Very briefly: if it is in fact so simple to "nudge" people between sets of preferences, how can you even claim they have real preferences? If people's preferences for apples or cookies is all an artifact of which comes first in the cafeteria line then central planners aren't allowing people to act on their low discount rate preferences instead of their high discount rate preferences, they're creating those preferences. David Henderson has a more in depth summary, but do read the original.

chrmoe :: LED Cube 8x8x8 running on an Arduino

Now that I've got a Raspberry Pi up and running I need to dive into Arduino.

I'm going to build one of these to cut my teeth, then before you know it I'll be giving Leo Villareal a run for his money 😉

Posted in Reading Lists, Uncategorized | Leave a comment