Sunday, October 30, 2005

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

I finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell yesterday. Here are some of my thoughts and a few excerpts. I highly recommend this book due to the timely subject matter, the intensely interdisciplinary nature of the book, and the highly interesting and illustrative stories that enliven the otherwise dry results of many studies on decision-making. For the excerpts, I scanned an image file instead of transcribing.

First, here's a short article on where the ideas for the book come from.


Even larger version of the above article (in case you can't read the print) available here.

On to some excerpts! These include and expand the excerpt I brought to (Thursday) Night's Engineering Resources Discussion, AKA NERD.













I found the narration of the events of the Millenium Challenge to be almost magnetically interesting. Any one that's observed large-scale institutional behaviour is probably familiar with at least some of the things discussed in the previous excerpts. The book discusses many other case studies drawn from diverse industries and situations. I've pulled only one out of the mix. Next, we jump forward a number of pages to catch the tail-end of a discussion on chest-pain triage at Cook County Hospital in Chicago (the inspiration for the television show ER).


The references to frugality in decision-making? Occam's Razor strikes again. When presented with two or more solutions to a problem, the simplest is always best. Extra information can often degrade the value of the solution, and Blink attempts to not only qualify this assertion, but quantify it as well.



What a very interesting final sentence. I found it to be more than a bit chilling!

If you're looking for a readable, fun, valuable, current-concept book that will make you look good at both cocktail parties and on the job, this is your book. It didn't take long to read, there is a very good notes section as well as an index.

Blues at Ducks 28 Oct 2005

The St. Louis Blues visited the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (wikipedia article) this past Friday (game recap), and it was one of those games that gets your attention.

It reminded me of a particular Kings at Ducks game (George attended that one with me) where, in my opinion, the Ducks' season turned around, they suddenly gained confidence they'd never seemed to have before, and the team ended up marching all the way to the finals in 2002-3. They lost to New Jersey, but it was quite the season.

The Blues game was really similar. Now, I'm also a Blues fan. I've pulled for the Ducks, Leafs, and Blues for a long time, even before I actually could see the game played since Arkansas TV stations never carried it, and we didn't have cable.

My dad had an interesting theory about how people from not-so-icy places seem to gravitate to hockey. I think people just gravitate to good sports, and hockey is one of the most-perfect sports.

Anyway, the game was great fun - the Blues really did kind of blow up after they scored two early goals. The penalties ate them alive, sure, but even with even-strength, the Ducks just looked great. By the end of the first period, the Ducks had had 23 shots on goal to the Blues 8. It stabilized a bit in the second, then the Ducks went back to playing more like the wide-open gangbusters game of the first.

This time of the year is always a slightly bizarre time in sports. You have baseball's finals going on, hockey has just started, I think football is still going on (bleh), and if they started the NBA season a couple weeks earlier, you'd have every major sport competing for attention. That would cause, I'm sure, some sort of mental breakdown for people that like all those sports.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Good News from San Diego

New baby in May!

Due date: May 11th, 2006.

Notice the quarterly timing. February 14th, August 13th, May 11th... That's what you get with engineer parents.

NO guarentee that I will sign up for November 2008, though! These projects are big.

No complaints other than fatigue, which gets resolved with large amounts of (iron-rich) broccli and beef.

They do sonograms earlier and earlier, so I've already gotten the chance to see the little guy, and there was a lot of kicking going on. More news as it comes available.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bad News from Little Rock

I got some bad news from Little Rock, AR today that might change some upcoming schedules and plans.

My mom's house burned badly this morning. The kitchen, living room, back bathroom and laundry room were destroyed. Some of the bedrooms are unburned, but I imagine smoke damage was significant. I may end up traveling out there to help, but that depends on how well my mother manages to deal with insurance and relocation.

New Fed Chair, thoughts about inflation

As many of you might be aware, the new U.S. Federal Reserve Chair was named today. Right before the announcement was made by President Bush in a news conference, I heard the following quote on CNN.

Kyra Phillips: "One thing has never changed. Greenspan's trademark ability to tell us anything we want to know in ways we cannot possibly understand."

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. Her delivery was really quite perfect. Mildly sarcastic, yet believably earnest, in a way that Americans have perfected over the past 200 years or so.

So the new FED chief has been on record saying things that incline some of us out here in economics geekland to believe that he's much less hardcore about controlling inflation than Greenspan is. This is very significant, since inflation is the greatest enemy of the investor.

About the only "investment" that can "make" money in an inflationary cycle is being mortgaged to the hilt. However, this requires a priori knowledge (seeing into the future).

The reason mortgaging everything works in inflation (with fixed rate mortgages, that is) is because, for example, you take out a 100,000 dollar mortgage. You sit there with inflation rates climbing, and essentiall inflation largely pays off your mortgage for you, as prices rise quickly. You may end up paying the equivalent of a lot less "real" money at the end of the 15 or 30 years of the note.

If you rented, though, your rents would track inflation. If you owned your property outright, you are in a bunker, so to speak, but you paid up front in expensive (at the time) dollars.

Owning a home outright insulates you from pretty much everything except property tax. Renting leaves you owing whatever market or inflation sets the prices at, but you would assume that wages would at least try to keep up with inflation. This assumption isn't always true, though, as many of us either remember or can empathize with.

The problem with taking out loans to fight inflation is that the spread between the interest rate and the inflation rate is not in the borrower's favor. In other words, inflation has to go up, a lot, for the loan to be devalued over time, with respect to paying as you go. As inflation rises, interest rates almost immediately adjust, so you really have to get your loan well before inflation hits. This means you have to be able to either tell the future, or you know things that bankers don't.

So, what do we know that bankers don't?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Update

From my aunt:
This is the NOAA satellite photo taken a day after Katrina, the area is
close to the foot of Courthouse Road and Highway 90, Gulfport, the old
Handsboro and Mississippi City historic district. If you scroll around
you will see the pier/jetty jutting out into the water, that is the old
"rock pile" as we used to call it. The corner of Cournthouse Road and Hwy
90 used to house the American Legion, and the old historic Courthouse
(that made it through Camille but is seen here as a square gray blank,
only the slab left), as well as several well known restaurants (also now
only slabs). Note that 90 is almost all under sand, I am told much of it
was washed out underneath. The railroad tracks can be clearly seen to the
right of the photo, maybe a quarter mile from the beach. All of that
light tan stuff, is what used to be the buildings on the square gray
slabs you see. You can see the surge line by following the light-tan
debris pile. That debris pile is impressive, bear in mind what you see in
that light tan stuff is 15 feet high, and every gray square you see is
only a concrete slab that used to be under a building. The railroad
tracks are what stopped the surge from moving furhter inland.

Apparently the only tree that can survive these storms is the Live Oak,
those are the only trees you see still standing. And the concrete slabs.

Dawn the morning after Camille in 1969, my dad said "Let's go down to The
Rock Pile and see how bad it was", the family having weathered Camille in
a house built in 1906 on Pass Road, a mile from the beach. Standing there
that morning in the breaking light of day, (and being the tender age of
13), and seeing what Camille had brought to us, I always thought, nothing
could be worse, nothing could do so much damage in such a short time, if
I can see all this catastrophic damage and live through it, well I can
handle anything. Well apprarently me and about 10,000 other people who
remember Camille were oh so wrong!

That light tan debris line in the photo link attached here, represents at
least 10 times the force of Camille.

Katrina had an eye 32 miles wide, with Cat 4 winds at landfall that
stretched 125 miles each side of the eye. Storm surge of 35 feet at the
eye, and 15 feet on the "outer" edges. Those outer edges reaching a
breadth of about 40 miles. She hit Hattiesburg at 110 mph sustained, and
that is 70 miles inland.

What you see in this photo, which represents about 3 miles of beach, is
what you will find from Pascagoula to Waveland, over 40 miles of
coastline. Sometimes only three blocks inland looks like this, sometimes
almost a mile inland.

This photo was Gulfport. Check the NOAA website for more photos.
Waveland, Bay St Louis, Pass Christian got hit worse. Biloxi got it bad
too, being swamped by both the Mississippi Sound and the back bay.

Six weeks later and it is still just overwhelming.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hockey is Back!

Copied without permission from CNNSI:

"TORONTO (AP) - The first shootout in NHL history went to the Ottawa Senators .

Daniel Alfredsson scored twice in the final six minutes of regulation and once in the NHL's new tiebreaker as the Senators rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

''It is exciting. It's nice to have a winner,'' Alfredsson said. ''Both teams battled hard for 65 minutes. I think it's right that the losing team still gets a point.''

Alfredsson tied it at 2 with 1:02 left in regulation, sending the game to overtime. After a scoreless five-minute extra period, Alfredsson scored on Ottawa's first attempt under the new shootout format.

Toronto's Jason Allison and Eric Lindros failed on their attempts against Dominik Hasek , but Dany Heatley scored on Ottawa's third chance, clinching the victory - and two points - for the Senators.

''I like the shootout. I think it's fun for everybody,'' Heatley said. ''We battled hard the last 10 minutes and Alfie came up big.''

Toronto coach Pat Quinn wasn't thrilled even though his team received one point for the loss.

''I'm not one of the ones that like the game being settled this way,'' Quinn said.

Toronto captain Mats Sundin didn't return after being struck in the face by a puck seven minutes into the first period. He left for the dressing room with a cut around his left eye, went to a local hospital and was released.

''The eyeball itself is fine. There's damage to the surrounding areas, but they weren't able to report if there is serious damage,'' Quinn said.

Sundin dropped to the ice after getting hit. He looked in obvious pain as blood poured.

''I don't know what the time frame is for him to play again. I would bet there is significant swelling,'' Quinn said.

Alfredsson tied it at 1 with 5:48 left with a shot that beat Ed Belfour from in front of the net.

After Lindros knocked down Ottawa's Mike Fisher with a check with less than four minutes left, Ottawa enforcer Chris Neil went after Lindros and received a minor penalty for cross-checking.

Lindros, playing his first game with his hometown team, received a rousing ovation. He then gave Toronto a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal with 1:31 remaining.

Hasek, 40, played his first game for Ottawa and his first for anybody since December 2003. He finished with 23 saves.

Belfour made 14 saves in the first period, including a spectacular glove save on Bryan Smolinski , and finished with 21.

Bryan McCabe 's slap shot on the power play beat Hasek to the glove side at 2:28 of the first to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

Notes: Maple Leafs fans were given a miniature replica of the Stanley Cup. The Maple Leafs haven't won it since 1967. ... The Senators and play each seven more times this season. ... Toronto's Maple LeafsWade Belak didn't play because of a spider bite."

A spider bite! Wow! Just yesterday, while working in the garden, I had a near-skin-experience with a really really big black widow spider. See? I have so much in common with Wade. Except he actually got bit. I escaped.

So, hockey is back. I know, most everyone in the U.S. is probably going "Where was it?" or "They still play that?"

I'm kind of a finicky sports fan. I love rally racing, road racing, am lukewarm about circle track, don't especially enjoy watching thoroughbred racing, watch football once a year for the superbowl, and while I used to play basketball, and used to watch any basketball game on TV, I now despise the bling-bling wannabe rap-star BS that the NBA has allowed itself to become smeared with.

There are some interesting rules changes this year in hockey. The first is the controversial shoot-out to break a tie. I like it. Some, like Pat Quinn above, don't like the shoot-out at all.

Other rules changes are kind of nice, like the ones that really step up the calls on hooking, etc. Interfering with other players should be handled like it is in soccer. Although some people long for the Broadstreet Bullies days of hockey, I sure don't. I want to see a fast, skilled, elegant game.

The red line is gone, which means that penalties for two-line passes are, I guess, gone. Now you can have the long passes that can really tip the game quick.

Also, the enormous goalie pads are gone. There is some sort of limit for equipment size now. This is not a bad development, since some goalies looked more like sumo wrestlers than goalies.

If you ice the puck, which is a generally misunderstood thing in hockey (icing), then you don't get to change out players, but the other side does. This is critical, because shifts are short, and fresh players get a distinct advantage over ones that have been sprinting out there for minutes. This would seem to make icing the puck unpalatable, however I can see where it could still be a tactic in order to break up a strong drive. Risky, but I will be watching to see what happens.

The only game I've seen so far is Rangers vs. Flyers, and the Flyers led for most of the game, but then the Rangers came back. This was interesting, because for the first two periods of the game, the Rangers sucked. No discipline, lots of penalties, and Flyers skating around them making them look like... the Blues! The Blues were beat bad yesterday. I mourn. They don't look good.

The Leafs don't look good this season either. I mourn this too. Blues, Leafs, and Ducks are the teams I generally follow. I have low expectations this year, but I'm happy that the one sport that I both like and can actually get on TV (just try to find good rally coverage) is back!

And, another reason to celebrate. Outdoor Life Network has got the NHL contract. This means that my least favorite announcer in the history of announcing - the greasy self-absorbed hoky hockey huckster Barry Melrose, will no longer annoy me! yay!

Check out The Jester's Quart, a great column about hockey announcers that ran some time ago.

"I like Melrose like most of America likes Simon Cowell on "American Idol." He’s such a puffed-up dolt, and when any words leave his mouth, you know they’re going to be provocative. Well, provocative in the way the Iraqi information minister was provocative: someone who is full of sh-t, but who is absolutely captivating.

The other problem with Melrose is that he’s just waaaaaaaay too laid back. A friend of mine observed the Barry might have ingested a few icy pints the other night during ESPN’s first-round coverage. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I did notice Melrose stop in the middle of a rant about the Wild beating the Avalanche, count to four, and begin the rant again. No, that wasn’t a joke."