April 2008

2008 04 30
Reverend Jeremiah Wright


I haven’t been following the Wright thing very closely, but last night I got curious enough to watch a few minutes of his recent press conference on youtube, and just now I skimmed through the transcript.

My impression is: That dude is awesome! What a performance! And he says lots of things very well. True, he’s a little nutty. The AIDS thing is almost a stupid as believing that Iraq was behind 9/11. But you can sort of see how spending a life watching the mainstream deny pretty obvious facts would make you suspicious of mainstream narratives. (I had a (white) relative of mine tell me something similar not that long ago. I was . . . dismissive.) If you want to be angry that someone is so suspicious of the government that he thinks that it might be behind AIDS, I suggest that you spare some of your anger for the government that warranted the suspicion (and boy, has it ever). But as for the rest, unless I’m missing something (and if I am, please tell me in the comments) I think the media is just blowing a fuse because he’s a black man who won’t eat their shit.

I applaud this strange, proud man who doesn’t want to eat shit.


Howls of outrage (9)

2008 04 28
Recently read


Posted by in: Books, History, Math

Tom Slee. No One Makes You Shop At Walmart: The Surprising Deceptions of Individual Choice

This book is not really about shopping at Walmart, but I’ll start there anyway. Suppose you’re grousing about Walmart. It wants to move into your town and you’re worried about the effects on the local economy. Or it already has, and you think the effects you warned about are already becoming apparent. There’s a good chance that the person you’re grousing to is going to point out that no one makes anyone shop at Walmart. Indeed, if your interlocutor impolite enough she may even raise the awkward point that she saw you just last week emerging from that very store. If everyone, including you, shops at Walmart, what better evidence, then, that the community has collectively decided to welcome Walmart by making a series of individual choices to support it?

The answer, according to Slee, is no, and his book is a very careful and methodical cataloging of some of the most important ways in which choice is more complicated than the view sketched above suggests, which Slee calls MarketThink. Very briefly, our choices are not made in a vacuum. We make the choices we do while responding to agents who are making choices of their own, which choices themselves are in part responses to our own choices or what they anticipate will be our choices. And in choice situations of this sort, it is often the case that every individual agent makes choices which are perfectly reasonable from where she is situated, but which lead to outcomes which no one involved would prefer all things considered.

Preference, then, turns out to be more complicated than it first appears. Sometimes “preference” refers to what an agent chooses from the options available to her, given the choices that other agents are making or intending to make. Sometimes, by contrast, it attaches to the outcome which the agent would prefer. A great deal of Slee’s book is taken up with explaining how and why these two notions of preference frequently come apart.

Readers who know even the most basic game theory will know that Slee is not just being modest when he claims in the preface that there is little original in his book. I’m not sure I actually learned anything new from this book, since I’ve already read my Rapaport and my Axelrod and my Sen and so on (and I really haven’t read much beyond that). Even so, I found it well worth my time. There’s real value in having the inadequacies of MarketThink detailed for two hundred pages of marvelously clear prose. I think that I was already predisposed to agree with virtually everything Slee said, but reading him made me aware that I do sometimes slip into versions of MarketThink when I clearly shouldn’t. So, the book was edifying and entertaining at the same time.

It’s worth noting, though I don’t intend this as a criticism, that the book is almost entirely negative. That is, it’s about the inadequacies of MarketThink, and not about how to correct for those inadequacies. That’s just fine with me, but I found myself wondering from time to time how an intelligent libertarian would respond to Slee’s main line of argument. I suspect that an intelligent libertarian would have to concede that MarketThink, as Slee depicts it, is crude and inadequate. But a libertarian version of Slee might just as easily write a whole book, also drawing on economics and game theory, to show how regulation and intervention in the market often leads to unintended and frequently unwanted results. The failure of MarketThink does not automatically establish the soundness of any alternative, of course. Now, I think the response to this point is to try to get more specific about exactly what interventions are warranted and how we propose to avoid unwanted consequences. But that just means that the argument goes on (and Slee would surely agree). But thanks to Slee (and the people whose work he draws on) the argument ought to go on without silly appeals to MarketThink. And that’s an advance worth celebrating.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

What a strange book! This book engages with an extensive literature on risk, probability and the psychology of risk and probability assessment, but it does so in a most unacademic way. Taleb tells stories, engages in autobiography, subverts our expectations about the relevance of the autobiographical passages, harangues, insults, scolds, relates his fantasies about humiliating rival thinkers, bullies, ends expository paragraphs with “Capiche?”, pleads, and repeats himself again and again. Taleb writes in a rough, informal, and highly idiosyncratic way. I cannot imagine that the editor of this book wanted the book as it is in its final form, and I sort of get a kick out of imagining Taleb forcing them to accept it anyway (I’m sure they made money on it nonetheless). He must be a serious pain in the ass to work with.

Anyway, Taleb’s basic idea is that we – human beings, that is – are incredibly bad at assessing risk. Our models for risk assessment tend underestimate the impact of the highly improbable. But marinate on this, brother: There are so many possible highly improbable events that it is highly probable that the highly improbable will intrude, and intrude very messily, into reality, and blow all our little models to bits. We just don’t know what they’ll be. We live in a world dominated by the highly improbable, and most of our risk models are worse than useless: because they encourage us to think we’ve got a handle on things, they make us even more vulnerable to extraordinarily improbable events when they do occur. Taleb doesn’t just confine himself to the world of finance, where he made his living dealing with risk, in order to illustrate this point, preferring to range over a much broader field of history in search of arguments and examples.

So why we do this? Much of Taleb’s book is a meditation on this very question, and, I think, a very useful one. When we look at past events, we have a tendency to slip into narratives that make events seem to follow one another in a natural and expected way. This encourages us to think that, going forward, events can be expected to follow one another in a natural and expected way. It isn’t so. And if you actually look at the track record of experts in various fields, you’ll find them regularly getting blindsided by events which were anything but predictable. And if you actually listen to the experts defending wrong predictions after the fact, you’ll regularly hear them defending their predictions in the following form, “But I was exactly right in my prediction, except that X,” where X is something highly improbable that unfortunately threw everything off. But if this happens again and again, we ought to stop and wonder about the value of such predictions in a world that serves up so many Xs.

This insight is not just valuable for people making their living predicting the future, in my opinion. I think this book should be required reading for anyone doing historical work, which, in my experience, frequently a) falls into the habit of ad hoc explanations which oversimplify reality, and b) often attempts conjectural reconstructions of the past on the basis of mere plausibility, again in a way that I think grossly oversimplifies matters. (I have a post in draft now illustrating (b).)

There’s more – much more – to Taleb’s story about the human propensity to underestimate the potential impact of the improbable, which I won’t go into. I will say that Taleb seems to me just a bit too enamored with stock evolutionary psychology explanations – which is funny in a book about how prone we are to manufacturing bogus ad hoc explanations, since the same vice is pretty common in evolutionary psychology, in my opinion. But whatever. There’s still a lot of great material here. And I found myself grateful for the repetition in the end. The first twenty times I read Taleb complaining about bad excuses for predictions gone wrong I nodded my head and thought “Yeah, sure.” But about the twenty-first time I thought “Holy fuck! That is so true. I do that too!”

Anyway, if you’re curious here’s a Malcolm Gladwell piece on the guy from the New Yorker. And here’s his (ugly!) website, where you can get a taste of how feisty and combative he is, since he appears to respond to all the reviews his books have gotten. I was amused to see his response to Gregg Easterbrook, who is seriously the dumbest fucking guy ever.

Henry Fielding. Joseph Andrews

Not nearly as good as Fielding’s Tom Jones, but then practically nothing is. I found the first fifty and the last fifty pages awesome, with some pretty plodding material in between them. Fielding’s theme is sexual desire in its various forms, its frustrations, its gratification, and so on. As I was reading it I thought I was entertaining myself with a fluffy, silly story about a man and a woman eager to get married so that they could get it on. But when I finished it and looked back I realized that for a fluffy, silly book it managed to sneak in quite a bit of interesting reflection about its theme while it was at it. Anyway, check out Chapter V, which is pretty damn funny:
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Howls of outrage (4)

2008 04 28
Theater of War


Posted by in: Documentaries

Some friends of ours have a film in the Tribeca Film Festival this year, so we caught the premiere of the show last night. (I find the cost of a regular movie ticket too much, so I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever made it to the Tribeca Film Festival.) It’s a wonderful documentary called Theater of War about . . . a bunch of things. It’s about Bertolt Brecht and his life, and in particular about a play of his called Mother Courage, and in part about a particular staging of Mother Courage in New York City in 2006 featuring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline and others. As the documentary follows the production of Mother Courage it reflects more broadly on war, and explores the relevance of Marxism to Brecht’s play and his work in general.

So: a very ambitious film. And you might reasonably think from this description that a project like this would collapse under its own weight. But they really do manage to pull it off. I was lucky enough to see this film twice before last night in various stages as it was being edited. I’ve seen lots of papers and books in draft before, but I’ve never seen a movie in draft form, so it’s been really interesting seeing it come from a rough longer version without a score and with some choppy transitions to a finished product in the theater.

Therefore, by the powers invested in me as the Scallywag-in-Chief of this blog, I endorse this documentary.

Super neat bonus fun: After the documentary, I got to ride in the director’s limo to some club for a private film festival party for which I was, as usual, under-dressed, though that didn’t stop me from ordering not just one, but two (!) beers from the open bar and scarfing as much free food as I possibly could. So, pretty much an ordinary evening for me, with the small difference that most evenings instead of going out I usually read blogs and then play with my snot pot.


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2008 04 24
Battlestar Galactica: A complaint


In the fictional world of Battlestar Galactica it is a fact of no little consequence that Cylons are virtually indistinguishable from humans, right down to the cellular level. And yet they’re different in all kinds of ways! For example, when they get killed, their consciousness gets uploaded so that they can just jump right into another body. But if they’re indistinguishable from humans right down to the cellular level then by what mechanism is this accomplished? And this is just the beginning of the features that supposedly make them very different from humans. The writers of the show seem to me to be making a really stupid move somewhere in the vicinity of this common mistake.

I’m not sure why this irritates me so much. I can suspend disbelief for an impressive variety of fictional worlds. But this! This I can hardly stand. Perhaps it’s because the mistake here is one that I see in serious contexts, whereas journalists don’t typically go around talking about star trek transporters as though we have currently working models. Anyway. Yeeeeearg.


Howls of outrage (29)

2008 04 24
Thought of the week


Posted by in: Anecdotal

We live right at the 24 mile marker of the Boston Marathon, so I spent all day Monday cheering on weary runners as they entered the final stage of their grueling journey. At one point I watched as Lance Armstrong and his coterie floated by. Turns out Armstrong, who finished well but was by no means in contention to place, finished with a time that was better than the time that won the first Boston Marathon in 1897. I don’t know how amazing that is, given how long ago that was, but it still seems remarkable.

But the thought of the week is this. Given that the first marathon was run in ancient Greece in order to deliver a message, it is remarkable how many people ran by me holding cell phones up to their ears.

As one is wont to say at this point, That is all.


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2008 04 23
Notes on Punctuation


If you don’t know it (as I didn’t) go read Lewis Thomas’ short essay Notes on Punctuation.

Ok, maybe only if you are a colossal nerd. But aren’t you? Really?


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2008 04 17
Knee-slapping


Posted by in: Odds and ends

I occasionally see it claimed, absurdly, that I’m the only human being who actually slaps his knee when he laughs. This is untrue. Knee-slapping actually runs in my family, and when my brother, father and I are feeling jolly we occasionally break out spontaneously into a knee-slapping fun-fest. In marrying Yoon I have also done as much as I could to ensure that any offspring we produce, should we produce offspring, are knee-slappers, since Yoon is at least as much a knee-slapper as I am. It’s especially easy to observe this if you tell her a poo-poo-pee-pee joke and then stand back a few feet. The typical result is not just knee-slapping, but finger-snapping too thrown in as an added bonus.


Howls of outrage (8)

2008 04 12
China and Tibet


Posted by in: China, Political issues

Update: Go read Jamie instead (including his response to me in the comments), since unlike me he actually knows what he’s talking about.

I think that China’s conduct in Tibet (and elsewhere!) is awful, and that it’s been awful for a long time. But I’m not sure what to expect from China at this point, and therefore not sure what to protest for or against on those occasions when revulsion puts me in the mood to protest. That’s because I suspect that China is not faced with a choice, as many protesters seem to imply, between being a China that oppresses Tibet and being a China that doesn’t oppress Tibet. Rather, to put it too dramatically, I suspect that China is faced with a choice between being a China that oppresses Tibet and there not being a China for very long afterwards. Or to put it less dramatically, between being a China that oppresses Tibet and being a China under considerably increased internal strain. That’s because China contains not one restless minority group yearning to be free, but rather a number of such groups, all of whom are watching China’s handling of Tibet with considerable interest, and none of whom would stop their yearning if China granted Tibet the kind of freedom that its citizens would choose if they were given a choice.

That doesn’t excuse anything China does in Tibet, of course. And it doesn’t rule out all kinds of intelligent, constructive criticisms. It does mean, however, that a legacy of deep injustice has complicated matters past the point of easy resolution. This is one of the things that sucks about serious injustice. This is what it does. This is what it leaves behind in its wake. And I think it’s worth remembering that, whether I’m right in my understanding of the situation or not, the Chinese leadership may well believe something like (a more charitable version, presumably) what I’ve just suggested. They’re not just doing what they’re doing to Tibet to be evil, or because they’re bigoted (though many surely are). Some of their reasons, surely, have to do with the fact that, because they inherit a history marked with extreme injustice which has included conquest over other ethnic and religious groups, they now find themselves backed into a tight spot when dealing with any one group.

So here’s a tricky question: How do you recognize all that without proposing solutions that are complicit in the injustice? Or at any rate, that don’t concede too much to it? In an important sense I think Tibet ought to be granted real autonomy by China at the very least. But I also recognize that the consequences of doing so for China would extend far beyond Tibet. Criticisms of China that call for less than autonomy seem to me to risk being complicit in the original and ongoing injustice done to Tibet. Criticisms of China that call for actually just solutions require compromises on China’s part that have far-reaching implications for its long-term viability as a state.

I don’t really have a point in posting this, except perhaps to provoke a commenter to say something intelligent that helps me to see things more clearly.


Howls of outrage (3)

2008 04 11
Baby, I’m on fire with burning desire


Posted by in: Odds and ends

Whoops:

Lawrence Waterhouse III pulled out all the stops — and all the candles — when he proposed marriage to his girlfriend in the gazebo outside his suburban home.

“He had set it up very, very nicely,” Chappaqua Fire Chief Andy Metz said Thursday. “He had candles in the trees, candles and dogwood petals along the path, a chandelier with votive candles.”

The girlfriend apparently said yes to the romantic Wednesday night proposal, and the couple left town early Thursday for a trip out west, Metz said. Unfortunately, at least one of the candles apparently stayed lit.

“We got the call about 7:15 this morning, and when I got there five minutes later the gazebo was fully involved in flames,” the chief said. “Luckily, nothing else burned.”

If I were the romantic type, I’m sure I would have done something like that by now.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2008 04 10
On the radio, part two


Posted by in: Anecdotal

Oh man, I’m such a pretentious twit. I managed to get about 20 seconds into the interview before I interrupted the host to correct him (he said the “Axis of Evil” line came from the 2003 State of the Union speech, when of course it came from the 2002 speech). The rest of it went so fast I don’t remember it very clearly, but I think I was a pretentious twit for at least some of the rest too. I think I made the following points:

-Nuclear proliferation is a bad thing. Nuclear proliferation involving North Korea is a bad thing. But let’s be clear about this: It’s not as if North Korea is suddenly going to get dangerous the moment it acquires properly working nuclear weapons. For decades now North Korea has had a massive conventional deterrent. And during this entire time millions of South Koreans and tens of thousands of American servicemen and women have lived in the shadow of its artillery fire. A frighteningly large percentage of these people would be dead within a few hours of the beginning of such an attack. This is hardly ideal, but that’s the point: we’ve lived with the very-far-from-ideal for a while now. So let’s put this in perspective.

-If I were negotiating with North Korea, I would try to offer non-aggression assurances, as well as some reasonable inducement to give up the nuclear program. But then I’d be willing to walk away if they didn’t take me up on the offer. (What I didn’t get a chance to say is that I’d probably focus on interdiction and other non-proliferation strategies and simply try to wait for the regime to collapse. These kinds of things happen incredibly suddenly when they do happen, and no one sees them coming. But I would not be at all surprised to see something very surprising happen in North Korean within five years, which would render all our current projections moot, based as they are on the assumption that the present will continue much as the past has.)

-I claimed that the United States has to get used to the idea that Iran is going to have a certain amount of influence in Iraq. Unless the US is planning to install a Sunni dictator, it’s extremely likely that large portions of the leadership of Iraq will have significant ties with Iran. Many will have spent time there in exile, they’ll have religious ties, and so on. And there’s only so much the U.S. can do about that.

-As far as dealing with Iran on nuclear proliferation, the U.S. can do lots of things. The first is to take seriously its own commitments with respect to non-proliferation agreements. It just hasn’t done that. Up until a few years ago the Bush administration was talking openly of mini-nuke bunker busters until congress finally squashed that. And they’re probably still developing them anyway. And it’s not just the US that has a serious hypocrisy problem here. How in heaven’s name can a representative of France – France, with its long history of nuclear testing in defiance of world opinion – tell an Iranian counterpart with a straight face that non-proliferation is important?

The second criticism of U.S. diplomacy I made was that it is so often incredibly undisciplined. For example, the United States needs Russia very much in its dealings with Iran. So why oh why would they choose this time to antagonize Russia completely unnecessarily with the anti-ballistic missile nonsense, especially when it will never work and everyone knows it.

We then made fun of me for being Canadian. I was asked if I speak French:

Me: Non. Un petite peu. Seulement.
Host: Huh.
Me: Monsieur Landart would be so disappointed in me.
Host: I’m sure she would.
Me: He. Um, most Monsieurs are he’s.
Host: Si.

I’m leaving out a lot. Oh yes, I claimed to be wearing a clown suit, which the host assured the audience was the national dress for Canada.

Anyway, I suppose there was a lot of talking for about 15 minutes. I had a good time, and I’m glad I enjoyed it because I doubt it’ll happen again for a long time.


Howls of outrage (7)

2008 04 10
It could only happen anywhere


Posted by in: Anecdotal

I was walking along Broadway around 20th St the other day and midway through the intersection, while pedestrians were allowed to cross, a man sat down crosslegged on the street so his companion could snap a quick photo of him. Some idiot walking by turned to me and said “Only in New York!”

I’m not sure if that’s my dumbest “Only in New York!” moment, but it’s pretty competitive.


Howls of outrage (15)

2008 04 09
On the radio


Posted by in: Anecdotal

For reasons that are entirely unclear to me (scrapping the very bottom of the barrel? mistaking me for someone else? practical joke?), I was asked go on the radio tomorrow to discuss politics.


Howls of outrage (10)

2008 04 09
Recently read


Posted by in: Books

Zadie Smith. On Beauty.

Not great, but it kept me reading until the end, and that’s gotta count for something.

Timothy Ferriss. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.

The inside flap has an endorsement from the coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul, so how could I go wrong with this one? Ferriss ran a business the normal way until one day he broke down from the stress and couldn’t do it any more. So he reorganized everything, cut out crappy clients who weren’t worth the effort, delegated sensibly, outsourced a surprising number of tasks (some to a personal assistant in India), made himself much less available by email (training clients and underlings to learn to get along without him), and generally designed a business that would run on its own so that he could travel around the world and have fun, checking in on things occasionally from afar. The book is about how exactly he, and others whom he calls the “New Rich” (NR), manage this trick.

Since I don’t have Ferriss’s tastes or ambitions, I can’t say that everything in this book was relevant to me. But he says some sensible things, in the way that self-help — excuse me, lifestyle design — books do. For example, he points out that tasks often expand to fill the time allotted them. Very true. And that they do so because sometimes we need to feel busy, whether it does any real good. Also true. He also points out that money doesn’t do you any good if you’re too busy to spend it, and so you may well be better off cutting your salary if it gains you more of the things you actually want. Because of risk-aversion, people tend to fixate on the downside of a decision (e.g., lost money) rather than weighing the costs against the benefits. Totally true! It’s not exactly earth shattering stuff, then, but it can be very useful sometimes to read things you already know or half-know, which I suppose is why self-help books sell so well (though I got my copy out of the library). But why oh why must every subchapter in these things begin with a stupid epigram?

Ferriss ends the book by confronting the fact that people who do manage to follow his advice and free up a lot of time often end up confronted by a sort of existential dread after the first flush of excitement wears off. Ferriss responds to this by claiming that many philosophical problems are pseudo-problems that result from badly formulated questions. I tend to mostly disagree*, but philosophically sophisticated readers will recognize immediately that Ferriss, whether he knows it or not, has some very respectible company in holding this view. Ferriss also seems to think about philosophical reflection in a way that emphasizes existential angst, and so recommends just getting out and doing stuff. Again a view with too much in the way of respectable company to sneer at (unless you’d like to sneer at the respectable company too), but whereas there is perhaps a place for a bit of existential angst now and again I’ve always been attracted to an alternative tradition, which I associate most of all with Aristotle, that thinks of philosophical reflection as the highest form of activity, rather than a distraction from activity, and moreover one that is as pleasurable as it is worthwhile.

* Obviously there are many badly formed questions. The problem is that they’re so often in the vicinity of perfectly reasonable well-formed questions. Also, Wittgenstein can go sit on a tack.

Joel Spolsky Smart & Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent

Spolsky’s blog is a great read, so it’s not surprising that he writes books well too. If you think that no one could discuss office chairs with charm, wit, and panache, that’s probably because you’ve never read Spolsky. Indeed, this book is so engagingly written that it’s almost possible to get to the end without noticing that he hasn’t said very much that you didn’t already know. But even if you know stuff, it can be useful to read it, which I suppose is why business books sell so well (though I got my copy out of the library). No stupid epigrams in this one, thank God.

Here’s a summary. Internships are the best way to recruit young talent. The very best programmers rarely apply for jobs at all. You’ve got to get them young. Recruit on summer internships, pay well, give lots of perks. Beware of referrals from within the company. These are often less promising than you’d think. Beware non-compete agreements that potential hires may have signed in the past. Often programmers have the haziest idea about what they’ve signed, but these are enforceable.

There is quite a bit of evidence that private offices make people more productive. People prefer to work in a place with private offices. Indeed, the office space makes a big difference to hiring (windows, private offices, location, etc.). So does having, e.g., comfortable chairs. Other ways to make your company attractive to developers: let them order all the programming books they want on amazon; give as much freedom as possible to learn new technologies; associate yourself with open source and other idealistic stuff.

A lot of recruiters recruit by technology: does X know C# or Python or whatnot. This is stupid. Unless you’re hiring the chief architect to get things off the ground, get the best programmers and trust them to pick up the specific technologies.

In the interview, ask large open-ended questions which basically just give you a chance to have a talk. Try to get a sense of the person’s intellectual style.

Spolsky finishes with discussion of the best way to manage teams. Trying to motivate teams with army discipline isn’t terribly effective. This often becomes micromanaging, and because managers often know the least about the technical issues and typically manage a lot of people doing different tasks at once, this becomes incompetent hit-and-run micromanaging. Trying to motivate people with money is also pretty ineffective. People have plenty of motivation to do a good job in the normal course of things (at least for certain tasks). Trying to motivate with money just misunderstands that, and tends to replace intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation. Not supplement. Replace. Of course you need to pay people well, since that’s a basic issue of fairness and people care very much about fairness. But it can’t be the main way of motivating a team. And these motivational schemes can have perverse effects. It’s far better, Spolsky argues, to try to motivate people by getting them to identify with the goals of the organization. And you also need to remember to give people the information they need to do a decent job. If you want to push forward a release, for example, it helps to explain why this matters from the company’s point of view.


Howls of outrage (11)

2008 04 06
What I’ve been up to lately


Posted by in: Anecdotal, Music

Life is good! I’ve been busy. In February I designed a website for the new music group Toca Loca. I saw them play live last year as part of the Wordless Music Series and the show was incredible. They have clips on the site very much worth listening to.

More recently, I’ve just completely overhauled Yeah Yeah Records, our little label, complete with a manifesto. Very exciting. It’s still a little rough around the edges (for example, the store still isn’t set up to execute a sale directly yet, so for now I’ve just set all the inventory for 0 on all items), but we’ll work all that out.

The site overhaul coincides with a publicity campaign to promote Yoon’s latest CD. We hired a publicist! Using our credit cards!

Not content to be starting up just one business, I’ve also gone and started (for some value of “started” – it’s complicated since we’re inheriting something else that already had a certain amount of momentum and a portfolio) an IT Consultancy with a friend.

This means, of course, that my dissertation is on hold. I’m still not sure what I’ll be when I grow up, but right now I’m having fun pursuing these other things, so I think I’ll keep on pursuing them.


Howls of outrage (4)

2008 04 04
Couldn’t help posting this


Posted by in: Psychology

It’s making the rounds, so perhaps you’ve already seen this?

The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task.

As far as I’m concerned, the freakiest part of the article is this:

What limits willpower? Some have suggested that it is blood sugar, which brain cells use as their main energy source and cannot do without for even a few minutes. Most cognitive functions are unaffected by minor blood sugar fluctuations over the course of a day, but planning and self-control are sensitive to such small changes. Exerting self-control lowers blood sugar, which reduces the capacity for further self-control. People who drink a glass of lemonade between completing one task requiring self-control and beginning a second one perform equally well on both tasks, while people who drink sugarless diet lemonade make more errors on the second task than on the first. Foods that persistently elevate blood sugar, like those containing protein or complex carbohydrates, might enhance willpower for longer periods.


Howls of outrage (2)