Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Pope will give up his shoes and his ring after he resigns

roflbot

 

That is the most perfect shade of red that I have seen, want! Though I probably would wear it without the socks and in a different style.

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Anti Data David Brooks

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Another day another column from a NYT columnist spouting half truths and half baked ideas.  David Brooks’ fight against objective reality is not a new phenomenon.  I remember the pre-election freak out about Nate Silver.  Shorter Brooks, if reality does not agree with your preconceived notions reject reality.

Yesterday’s column was about the supposed shortcomings of data analysis.

Data can help compensate for our overconfidence in our own intuitions and can help reduce the extent to which our desires distort our perceptions.

But there are many things big data does poorly.

He does not explain ever what he means by big data.  Does David Brooks want to do away with the scientific method?

Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437), but it’s excellent at social cognition. People are really good at mirroring each other’s emotional states, at detecting uncooperative behavior and at assigning value to things through emotion.

Just because Bobo is bad at math does not mean everyone is. As Doug Galt of Balloon Juice points out this is not a  very difficult problem in the first place. And even if I needed a calculator to determine the square root of an extremely large number, what exactly does that prove? It does not prove that human brain is not good at math. The answer to the above  problem would be the same if either the innumerate David Brooks were to punch in the keys or a  mathematician. Besides, finding the square root of a number is arithmetic and there is much more to math than arithmetic.

Therefore, when making decisions about social relationships, it’s foolish to swap the amazing machine in your skull for the crude machine on your desk.

Who has proposed this, exactly? A straw man created by Brooks. Using your computer does not preclude using your brains. As with the example of the calculator the the computer is just faster in some instances.  Also, scientists have collected and analyzed and relied on data  before the advent of computers.

Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. The human brain has evolved to account for this reality. People are really good at telling stories that weave together multiple causes and multiple contexts. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel.

A jargon laden paragraph of gibberish, bet someone could come up with a program that wrote columns that are not so mediocre.

Data creates bigger haystacks. This is a point Nassim Taleb, the author of “Antifragile,” has made. As we acquire more data, we have the ability to find many, many more statistically significant correlations. Most of these correlations are spurious and deceive us when we’re trying to understand a situation. Falsity grows exponentially the more data we collect. The haystack gets bigger, but the needle we are looking for is still buried deep inside.

Apparently Bobo, has never taken a statistics course, because the first thing they drill into you at even in  Statistics 101, is that correlation is not causation. It is clear that David Brooks has never collected data for any scientific experiment or done any kind of analysis using numbers, because the problems he cites are about analyzing the data.  Does he not realize that results based on scientific analysis have to be robust and not be dependent on either the data set or who is doing the analysis. Scientific research through its peer review process already has these safe guards in place.

This is not to argue that big data isn’t a great tool. It’s just that, like any tool, it’s good at some things and not at others.

No Bobo, data analysis and the scientific method is much better than your gut feeling or reading a sheep’s entrails or tea leaves. And despite your dig at Nate Silver, he did  get the election results right.  And he has a much better record than you at making political predictions. He proved in the last election cycle that your gut based approach did  not hold a candle to his methodology.

I get it, David Brooks is suspicious of something that he does not understand.  May be David Brooks should get at least a freshman level understanding of the subject he is criticizing, before churning out a column about it.

I can has a First Page Lol

Fascinated Kittehs is Fascinated

LoL by: two_kittehs

This morning I had a pleasant surprise awaiting me, as I browsed through my usual sites. A lol that I had made weeks ago had made it to the first page of I Can Has Cheezburger’s lolcats’ site. I never know which lol will get selected for the first page for the, it remains  a complete mystery to me. Sometimes lols that get a lot of votes don’t make it, some lols of mine have made it to the first page without even being on the voting pages. Anyway, being featured on the first page makes me happy.  Here are my other lols that have made it to the first page of ICHC and/or ICHC/lolcats over the years.

Sparticat

This is  SPARTAAAAAA...

LoL by: two_kittehs (Picture by: two_kittehs)

Lincoln

He is on the penny and on the National Mall.   Second in importance to no other President save Washington.  Before seeing the latest movie I only the knew the broadest outlines of Lincoln’s life and career.  That he was the President during one of the most trying times in American History, the Civil War.  He signed the emancipation proclamation and abolished slavery and that he was the first President to be assassinated.

Lincoln, the Spielberg movie focuses on a brief but  important period in his life and the history of the Union. The screenplay is by Tony Kushner and the movie is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book,  Team of Rivals. The movie focuses on the months after Lincoln’s reelection, when he was trying to get the  thirteenth amendment to the constitution through the lame duck session of Congress.  An amendment to the Constitution which would abolish slavery.

The drama is centered on getting  the various factions of the Republican party in Congress, to vote for the amendment, before the war ends.  This meant getting support of conservative Republicans, like Francis Preston Blair,  from Maryland, who want a quick end to the war and the more liberal, abolitionist faction of radical Republicans led by Pennsylvania Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens,  who want more sweeping reforms in addition to abolishing  slavery.  The bill had already passed the Senate. Meanwhile the war is still raging on although the Confederacy is on its last legs.  A Southern peace delegation is making its way to DC.

On the domestic front, Lincoln has to contend with his wife’s mood swings and being the primary parent to their youngest son. His older son wants to join the war effort, something which his mother is totally against.  Since she has lost a child already, while in the White House and does not want to lose another.  The Lincoln marriage  seemed contemporary, they were partners and equals. The portrayal of his domestic life, did much to humanize him, bringing him down from the Olympian heights of Mt. Rushmore.   The only times Lincoln seemed worry free and happy was when he was playing with his youngest son.

The bill does pass, and the movie ends not with Lincoln’s assassination but his second inauguration speech. For me the movie worked, it brought out  Lincoln the man, and his struggles and an important event in the history of the country. The audience in  the theater  where I saw the movie, seemed to agree with me, as everyone in the theater stood up and clapped as the credits rolled in.

Apart from Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, was the one that fascinated me the most. He seems like a remarkable person, I wonder why there has been no movie made about him.

This movie also prompted me to read about the history of the Civil War in greater detail.  I am currently reading the Battle Cry of Freedom.  I also appreciated the PBS mini-series the Abolitionists a lot more, as the thirteenth amendment, in a way was a culmination of their struggle. Speaking of movie worthy biographies, in addition to Stevens, a movie on Douglass, would be the one I would like to see.

Daniel Day Lewis is remarkable as Lincoln and a strong contender for the Oscar for  best actor. So far I have seen him in the Last of the Mohicans, The Age of Innocence and A Room with a View, all very different roles, and I have always come away  impressed at his depth and range.  Day Lewis was ably supported by Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens and Lee Pace as Fernando Wood,  and the entire ensemble cast. Kudos also to the casting director, many of the actors have remarkable resemblance to the historical counterparts.  A movie that makes you think and gets you to ask questions, and prompts you to find out more. What more can one ask from a movie?

Grade: A

Its a Miracle

In days of yore, Friedman used to be the Middle East correspondent for NYT and was a good reporter or so I have heard. These days he spends his days evangelizing about globalization and meeting sundry taxi drivers from Tokyo to Mumbai. Then he pens them in columns full of buzz words and jargon using tortured metaphors.

India Ink, the NYT blog on India interviewed Tom Friedman recently. Mustache of Understanding manages to answer them without really answering them. Throws in a lots of buzz words. His favorite adjective seems to be hyper. The world is hyper flat, we are hyper connected, I counted at least five instances of hyper in the interview. Hyper use of hyper seems hyper. MoU speaks in a special dialect of English, MoU speak, it is like Lolspeak but less cute.

Some highlights

Is the world still flat?

Shorter Friedman: Flat and getting hyper flatter.

Translation from MoU speak : The trends he described in his book are accelerating.

The globalization of business is basically finding a way to justify exploitation of labor, resulting in an enormous concentration of wealth in fewer hands. The majority of labor working for low-end manufacturing work in pathetic conditions, while workers in the U.S. face layoffs, particularly the elderly. Who is paying for this social cost, and should globalization be regulated, somehow?

Shorter Friedman:Concerned MoU is concerned but Rah Rah Globalization and college education is a cure for unemployment. This is what it sounds like in original MoU speak.

The first thing you need to understand about globalization is that it is everything and its opposite. So it is take it with one hand and give it with another hand.

So, who is the exploiter and who is the exploitee in this system? If horses could vote, there never would have been cars.

I’m concerned about it too.

So what happens when the world gets this hyper-connected? Well, first of all, the returns to education grow enormously. To be able to use these new technologies properly, you need to be educated. In America today, unemployment for people with four-year college degrees is 3.6 percent, basically nothing. Unemployment for someone who dropped out of high school is now infinity. I exaggerate but you get the point.
It’s called skills-bias polarization.

roflbot

The devaluation of labor is not just due to technological change (or hyper connectivity in MoU speak) but because of the tax and other policies of the past few decades. Globalization has not been a win-win neither in US nor India. There have been winners and losers. What Friedman is doing is blaming the losers, saying that they are losers because they lack education. This is just another version of Romney’s 47% quote. Hey sucker if you are jobless it is because you have no education. I guess he has never spoken to a single post-doc who has spent years getting an education but still doesn’t have a job in his chosen field of expertise, that pays him well.

How would you rate India on governance and public institutional structures compared to other democratic countries?

MoU compares India, China and Egypt. That’s like comparing apples, to oranges and bananas. An exercise in futility. Why? Because he visited all three countries recently. Mysterious are the ways of the MoU. Bet he met cab drivers in all the three countries as well. He predicts that India’s governance will improve because 300 million people have access to cell phones. I have no idea where that number comes from. Earth to MoU, access to a cell-phone does not make you middle class.

India in my mind has relatively weak governance in terms of delivering services, but a very strong civil society

I think India’s governance will improve. The government here is not utterly ineffective. It does do some things very well, but clearly it has weaknesses around policing, infrastructure building and providing consistent education.

India today has, because of hyper-connection of the world, and diffusion of technology, experienced the pushing down to lower and lower income levels more technology empowerment and education. That’s why India today seems like it has a 300 million-person middle class and a 300 million-person virtual middle class.

Studies indicate that equal treatment between the sexes is important to slowing the birth rate. I don’t see that globalization is contributing significantly to that end in India. An argument can be made that globalization has made it possible for the people who are most likely to start egalitarian families to leave India for the West?

Again according to MoU, hyper connectivity solves the problem of female empowerment. How don’t ask.

Question Tom, China may not be loved in the West, but is respected and admired for its accomplishments. How do you think India ranks on the loved vs. respected and admired spectrum?

What an interesting question.

I find the premise of the question troublesome.  First of all MoU is not a stand in for the world, and he has zero insight into India and its problems. The only Indians he knows are imaginary taxi drivers and CEOs of outsourcing and tech companies. In an interview full of fail, this is the  stupidest comment in the entire exchange.

What if 1 billion 50 million Indians were living like Syria today? The whole world would be different. Literally, the whole world would feel different today.

Wouldn’t they be Syrians, then?  Does he mean Indian immigrants? This sentence makes no sense.

Then there is this:

So to me India is a miracle. One billion fifty million people holding free and fair elections, just about every day, in the country. We now take it for granted because it has gone on for so long. I think it’s amazing.

India holds elections everyday? That is some democracy, indeed.

He ends the interview by pimping Nasscom.

U.S. government slams S&P with $5 billion fraud lawsuit

Finally! The mortgage backed securities that were rated AAA by the Standard and Poors Ratings agency, turned out to be worthless pieces of paper. How did these securities manage to get a AAA rating in the first place? Did S&P know that the securities would be worthless unless the housing market kept expanding (an erroneous assumption) or did they not even now what they were rating?  The Justice Department says they knowingly gave false ratings. I wonder if Moody’s is next.

Green Chutney Shrimp

I love this shrimp curry. I like it best with freshly made homemade chapatis. It is also good with pasta or plain white rice. It is very easy to put together, unlike most other Indian curries this one requires no onions and a mile long list of spices. This chutney shrimp is my mother’s invention.  It is easy to put together after you come home from work.  The base of this dish is green chutney, so you will need fresh cilantro, green chilies, ginger and grated coconut. You can make this chutney a day or two ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. My mother uses fresh coconut but I use dried grated coconut which I reconstitute using hot water.  This greatly cuts down on the preparation time. You can get unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes in either natural foods store or an Indian grocery store.

1 pound shrimp peeled (I use either 41/50 count or 26-30 count)

½ cup unsweetened dry desiccated coconut flakes

½ inch piece of ginger

2 to 3 cloves of garlic

1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves

2 to 3 Serrano peppers or Thai birds’ eye peppers (remove the seeds if you like milder chutney)

1 tsp. sugar

Salt to taste

3 whole cloves

½ tsp. turmeric (optional, more for color, leave it out if you don’t have it on hand)

1 tbsp. oil

Juice of 1 whole lime

  1. Add about ½ cup of hot water to the coconut flakes to reconstitute them. Set aside for an hour.
  2. Then make a paste of the reconstituted coconut flakes, ginger, garlic, chilies and cilantro in a blender or a food processor. Add water if needed, also add the sugar and salt and the juice of the lime.
  3. In a sauce pan with a thick bottom, heat the oil, when the oil is hot and starts shimmering add the cloves cayenne and turmeric, add the coconut paste you made in step 2
  4. Keep cooking until the chutney changes color, and darkens about 5 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp, stir it in, till all of it is covered by the chutney  add kosher salt
  6. Add about ½ cup water, lower the heat to a simmer.
  7. Cook until the shrimp is done.  About 5 minutes. Do not overcook the shrimp.
  8. Your green chutney shrimp is ready to eat.  Serve on  rice, or pasta.

To make this a complete meal add a salad.

You can think of the green chutney as a kind of cilantro pesto and use it while making sandwiches or on potatoes, or as a dip.   It is also great with eggs.

Notes:

Shrimp: I usually have several pounds of headless raw shrimp in my freezer. I buy a few pounds whenever I get them at a good price between $5 and $6. Then I just thaw the amount I want by submerging the shrimp in lukewarm water, for about half an hour. Don’t buy cooked shrimp they have no flavor.  I have tried peeled shrimp too, but they have more additives and less flavor and are best avoided.   Both my cats love raw shrimp, so everyone is happy when I make this dish.