Memes are beautiful
10/12/2012, 19:56
Filed under: Culture, Ephemera, Myself, Thought

A few days ago spread the word about a beached dead whale raising a stench not far from Barbara Streisand’s Malibu property and the practical challenges of disposing of it.

The historical significance of this coincident wasn’t lost on those commenting on boingboing’s, nor the LATimes’ coverage. Two of the internet’s greatest memes had happened upon one another. Continue reading

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What is my PhD about?
27/11/2012, 15:51
Filed under: Economics, Myself, Sociology, Thought

Yesterday the Huffington Post published an article by CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald on whether Generation Y is more hard done by than the generations that came before it. According to Macdonald, while some things have changed for better or worse, one shift has overwhelmed all of them: Millennials will confront greater risks over their life times than any living generation before them.

And yet, what is risk? Macdonald lists a handful of instances—unemployment insurance is less likely to cover you; students have to go into more debt; pensions are more vulnerable to market fluctuations; housing markets are more volatile—but doesn’t take care to define a general concept.

While risk is an idea with intuitive appeal, if you ask most folks what exactly it means, most would have a hard time giving a concise answer. In fact, it wouldn’t be easy for me either, and I study risk everyday.  Continue reading

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Saturday night rent night
08/09/2012, 23:14
Filed under: Economics, Policy, Thought

This evening, I’m skimming theories of rent. For fun.

Rent is a bad thing. It’s econospeak for “undeserved profit.” Rent is a fun concept because it slips power back into neoclassical economics. Rents do not exist in perfect markets. They only exist where institutional contexts favour one group or individual at the expense of others.

While skimming the net, a few things stood out.  Continue reading

Your mind blown
07/09/2012, 17:42
Filed under: Ephemera, Thought

Your mind blown. More than once. Actually, this video is about 7 minutes long, and it will happen between 10 and 12 times. That is your mind blown at a rate of nearly 1.7 times a minute. Behold, the tardigrad, a.k.a the “water bear.” Via

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Psychoanalysis still not dead
28/08/2012, 12:05
Filed under: Ephemera, Politics, Thought

BC Liberal MLA offers a psychoanalysis of NDP MLA’s Marxist tendencies,  Continue reading

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Two data points on personal debt
24/08/2012, 09:28
Filed under: Economics, Policy, Politics, Thought

Pretty much by the definition of the universe, risk is something that affects all of us. Still, not all risk is the same.

Most notably, there is individual risk and there is systematic risk. Risk that effects the individual is risk that impacts each of us differently. Systematic risk effects our community or society as a whole, and so each of us in the same way.

A lot of people get worked up about various systematic risks. This includes things like climate change, nuclear holocaust and genetically modified foods.

While these systematic risks are important, practically speaking, we should also concern ourselves with individual risk, at least because they are tractable.  Continue reading

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Counterintuitive results
06/08/2012, 09:59
Filed under: Statistics, Thought

Here is a general rule of thumb for cross checking statistical results: “Are they surprising? If so, you probably made a mistake.”

The world isn’t that random, and common sense ways of knowing are remarkably good at arriving at more or less accurate estimates of aggregate level patterns (you don’t need a meteorologist to tell you that summer tends to be warmer than winter). If your results don’t conform to popular prejudices you need to put in some extra work.

In my experience, 9 out of 10 times that I am surprised by a result, I made a mistake. If you still think your results are correct and surprising after double checking everything, it’s time to estimate them again using either a different approach, or different data. If they still stand, then you might have something interesting on your hands.