New commenting system

In a thirty-second fit of procrastination, I have switched the blog's comment system to disqus. I haven't really played with it, but it should theoretically allow for threaded commentary. Not that this blog really generates any comments, but if it did, this might make those comments more interesting. Please feel free to write random things in the comments of this post.

A round of congratulations

This is somewhat overdue, but I just wanted to send out a round of congratulations to two people that are very close to me. The first round goes to my lovely girlfriend Pudge, who was recently accepted into Harvard Business School. The second round goes to my great friend AKA, who has just been admitted into the MIT Media Lab. Both of them have worked their butts off to get where they are and I can't think of anyone more deserving of admission. Congratulations to the both of you!

Humorous aside: Upon receiving her admission e-mail, Pudge only managed to read the first few words "After reviewing your application..." before concluding that the e-mail was in fact a rejection letter and closing it in sadness. She later gathered her wits, read the next few lines (the part that said she had been admitted), did a double take, and then began dancing. It took her several days before the full reality of her acceptance actually sank in.

American Idol predictions

I admit it. I watch American Idol. Part of it is just because Pudge is addicted to the show. The bigger part is that we DVR the show and skip through pretty much everything except the performances. Being able to skip through the contestant blurbs, Ryan Seacrest and Paula Abdul makes the show much more manageable. If I had to spend an hour and a half for each episode, there's no way I'd do it.

Here are my predictions:

* Dave Cooke and Brooke White in the finals
* Bottom three for this week are going to be Ramiele, Chikezie, and some other person.
* The 17-year old kid goes home sometime soon unless he starts singing songs that aren't really, really lame

I can't help myself!

From the NYTimes:

Mrs. Clinton proposed creating a “high-level emergency working group” to devise ways to restructure mortgages at risk of default. And whom might she put on this elite squad? Two people whose track records on mortgages have come in for criticism lately: Alan Greenspan and Robert E. Rubin.


Mrs. Clinton was asked about her choice of Mr. Greenspan during an interview with the editorial board of The Philadelphia Daily News. According to Will Bunch, a senior writer for the newspaper and the author of the Attytood blog, this was her response, with emphasis added by Mr. Bunch:
Not only that, but the Fed didn’t act while he was there. But he has a calming influence still to this day on Wall Street — don’t ask me why because I never understand what he’s saying — but nevertheless people respond to that Delphic oracle approach. I think it would be wise to include him. And recently he’s come out, and very smartly so, that we have to deal with housing and maybe we need to have some kind of buyout mechanism for mortgages. So he’s moved on his understanding and depth of the problem — but you know you could pick three others. You just have to have some demonstrable involvement of presidential leadership.
Considering that Hillary is supposed to be the policy wizard candidate, this is a bit surprising. It seems as if her experience isn't so much a fact base that she is using to make better informed decisions, but rather a Rolodex of people that she can call to tell her what to do.

New cookbook

Just got a new cookbook yesterday and I'm pretty excited about it. It's called Land of plenty and it focuses on food from the Sichuan province in China. It's very credibly written by Fuchsia Dunlop, the first foreign student at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. A couple things about this book have gotten me pretty excited:

* Recipes have both the English and the Chinese names (in pinyin and characters). Now I can finally figure out how to cook a ton of dishes that I only have a Chinese name for
* The recipes look pretty authentic - no carrots or tomatoes, but a lot of Sichuan peppercorns, chili oil, bean paste, etc.
* It tells you where you can actually buy some of the otherwise hard-to-find ingredients (I'll save you the effort, go to Adriana's Caravan)
* Almost all of the recipes look incredibly delicious

This book is great for people with my pretty narrowly defined profile, i.e. Chinese American with relatively broad exposure to Chinese food, but without enough cooking experience to just improv everything. Anyway, with any luck, I'll be feasting on some tight home-made suan ni bai rou and sichuan liang mian by the end of the week.

What I would like to see from more conservatives

John Cole writes:

Balloon Juice: I see that Andrew Sullivan was asked to list what he got wrong about Iraq for the five year anniversary of the invasion, and since I was as big a war booster as anyone, I thought I would list what I got wrong:


And I don't say that to provide people with an easy way to beat up on me, but I do sort of have to face facts. I was wrong about everything.

I was wrong about the Doctrine of Pre-emptive warfare.
I was wrong about Iraq possessing WMD.
I was wrong about Scott Ritter and the inspections.
I was wrong about the UN involvement in weapons inspections.
I was wrong about the containment sanctions.
I was wrong about the broader impact of the war on the Middle East.
I was wrong about this making us more safe.
I was wrong about the number of troops needed to stabilize Iraq.
I was wrong when I stated this administration had a clear plan for the aftermath.
I was wrong about securing the ammunition dumps.
I was wrong about the ease of bringing democracy to the Middle East.
I was wrong about dissolving the Iraqi army.
I was wrong about the looting being unimportant.
I was wrong that Bush/Cheney were competent.
I was wrong that we would be greeted as liberators.
I was wrong to make fun of the anti-war protestors.
I was wrong not to trust the dirty smelly hippies.

I mean, I could go down the list and continue on, but you get the point. I was wrong about EVERY. GOD. DAMNED. THING. It is amazing I could tie my shoes in 2001-2004. If you took all the wrongness I generated, put it together and compacted it and processed it, there would be enough concentrated stupid to fuel three hundred years of Weekly Standard journals. I am not sure how I snapped out of it, but I think Abu Ghraib and the negative impact of the insurgency did sober me up a bit.

War should always be an absolute last resort, not just another option. I will never make the same mistakes again.

If only an actual conservative in power would say this.

Link via Brad DeLong

Just a tip

Happy Easter, everybody. I've been a bit busy recently and have fallen off the blog-train for a bit. Nothing thoughtful today, just highlights from an Esquire article on tipping, a subject that I've always thought was a little weird. Here we go:


In a restaurant, a tip of 15 percent for good service is still the norm, while many give 20 percent for superior service. And don't tip the wine steward, unless he has performed exceptional services, like choosing several wines for a multi-course meal or decanting old vintages.
Is this true in New York, or am I just a really nice tipper? Well, according to Epicurious, it's pretty much a local thing:
Back when I was waiting tables, it was taken as a given that certain types of customers tipped better than others. New Yorkers, for example, always sent back plates, needed more bread, called for seconds and thirds on their iced teas, etc., but left at least 18 to 20 percent, if not more. Southerners, on the other hand, didn't run you and generally liked to chat, but regularly gave you 12 percent or less. Midwesterners were less thrifty than Southerners but also often less friendly. Men tipped better than women. Getting a guy on a first date was a godsend. Getting a table full of high-school kids (who invariably only ordered french fries and bottomless coffees and made a mess of the sugar packets and ketchup) was valid reason to start a ruckus with the host. And don't get me started on Europeans. I found that servers generally held the same ideas about who tipped best and worst whether they were slinging hash in North Carolina or running bowls of bouillabaisse in Greenwich Village.

Putting the sale of BSC in perspective

JPM's cost for acquiring BSC:

NY Yankees' cost for acquiring A-rod:
$275MN, with an additional $30MN if he breaks the home run record
Yeah. BSC < A-Rod.

I mixed up the BNs and MNs signs, which are now fixed. That being said, this is still crazy.

Eliot Spitzer's legacy

One of the most tragic outcomes of the Spitzer scandal is the tarnishing of his legacy as New York's attorney general. It's sad that the current state of politics is such that a man's private failings are considered sufficient reason to ignore their public victories. To get a sense of what I mean, here's a quote from's Odd Numbers blog.

Out of 20 S.E.C. settlements for market timing by mutual funds, 16 involved Spitzer when he was New York's attorney general.

The percentage of illegally-gotten money that mutual funds had to give back in the Spitzer cases was 80 percent -- almost full restitution.

In the 4 settlements not involving Spitzer, the S.E.C. settled for 7 percent.

Why the gap?

Part of it was Spitzer's aggressiveness, but the other factor was that younger S.E.C. officials usually go work at the firms they're in charge of regulating. So, the incentive to bring the hammer is, ummm, somewhat compromised.

Such a shame.

Breaking my original oath, but...

This will only make sense if you watched the Democratic debate in Ohio, where Hillary was really big on making Barack "reject" an endorsement from Farrakhan, even though Obama had just said that he emphatically denounces Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. That being said, this from the NYTimes:

For the last two days, Ms. Ferraro has been sharply criticized for comments she made last week that suggested Mr. Obama had succeeded as far as he had because he was black.

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” she told the Daily Breeze, a newspaper in Torrance, Calif.
Mrs. Clinton said yesterday that she “rejected” Ms. Ferraro’s original comments. But questions persisted about why she had not denounced them more sharply and whether they actually worked to the Clinton camp’s advantage with white voters.
Tsk, tsk. Does this mean denounce > reject?

Facebook slowdown - Anecdotal perspective

SAI has a college person reporting on why facebook growth is slowing. It's just another person's opinion and doesn't add anything new, but it sounds right and pretty much squares with my experience.

Facebook's new mass-market appeal has eliminated its niche appeal. Facebook simultaneously has begun to lose its novelty for some of the first-generation users and to drive them away with the same features that are meant to attract them.

Personally, I use Facebook a lot less than I did as a freshman. I haven't added any of the new applications, and for the most part, neither have my friends. SAI reported that the average Facebook user comes back to the site less often and stays around for shorter periods of time, and that correlates exactly with my experience.

If I get an e-mail notification that someone has added a photo of me or written on my wall, I'll go on for a minute to check it out, and then log off. I used to go on Facebook to procrastinate, and now I usually go on for a specific, short-term purpose. I wouldn't go so far as to delete my account, though (although I'm glad it's finally possible to do so); being a member is still a necessity in college.
If the platform were a little bit more flexible, I think I'd probably use facebook for everything that I do with this blog. It has a huge built-in advantage, in that it's built to constantly update my friends on what I'm doing.

Unfortunately, there are just some issues that I can't get around. The biggest is access control. There are totally random people connected to me on facebook, and I just don't want all of them to have access to everything that I write. Roger Ehrenberg wrote something way back when about wanting the ability to have three different profiles, one for friends, family, and colleagues that I think is more or less what I want. Although, I'd probably shift colleagues to acquaintances and just be as MECE as possible. In any case, it would be interesting to see the data and figure out what's actually going on up at facebook.



I'm kind of amused by the whole Scrabulous flare-up. First, I'm amused by the founders. From Dealbook:

Jayant Agarwalla, 21, told The New York Times in an article published over the weekend that they did not create Scrabulous to make money, even though they now collect about $25,000 a month from online advertising. They just wanted to play Scrabble on their computers, and their favorite (unauthorized) site had started charging, he said.

Still, they are now taking in $300,000 a year and, according to Silcion Alley’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, with a 10- to 20-times-revenue multiple that would make Scrabulous worth $3 million to $6 million. Allowing for a what the blog calls “a hockey-stick growth curve,” it could be worth more than $10 million, Silicon Alley said.

But according to the publication, again citing an anonymous source, “the brothers want a ‘multiple of several times that’ $10 million, and the four corporations they’re negotiating with think that’s ridiculous.”

I think it's kind of awesome that these guys can take someone else's idea, post it on-line, and then demand tens of millions of dollars from the company that actually owns the game. I mean, if you wrote a book, and then I stole, published and distributed a copy of it, would it make any sense for you to pay me a huge multiple of what I might potentially make off of the book that you wrote? If only I could be so lucky!

I can see that the game companies are trying to avoid consumer backlash and are probably conscious of the negative publicity that the RIAA and the MPAA have received for suing MP3 downloaders. But Hasbro and Mattel are dealing with guys that blatantly ripped them off and are now making $300k a year off of their game, not with the actual consumers of the product.

I think it's also funny that even though the game companies have been treating the Agarwalla brothers with the utmost of care, that there's still a consumer backlash, with facebook groups planning to boycott sales of Scrabble. People are addicted to getting things for free, and they get pissed when someone indicates that they shouldn't have ever had it in the first place. In light of this, I'd be curious to see what the response would be like if Hasbro/Mattel put out an official Scrabble application that was similarly free and of good quality, and then had the courts shut down Scrabulous for violation of their IP. Would people be mad because of the use of the legal system, or would they be fine because they could still play Scrabble online for free?

Barren oceans

A news snippet from the NYT:

Relatively barren stretches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans around the tropics have expanded about 15 percent since 1998, according to a new satellite study. The study’s authors said that the change could be temporary given the short period of observations but that it matches a slight but steady warming trend in the affected ocean regions and matches a pattern scientists have predicted would occur under global warming. The study’s authors, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii, said warm surface waters tended to block upwellings of deeper, nutrient-filled water necessary to support plankton and other marine life. The Indian Ocean has seen similar changes but with a less measurable trend, they said.
That's particularly worrisome. Aside from being the base of the marine food chain, plankton produces somewhere between 50-90% of the global oxygen supply, according to NASA estimates. It's a wide-ranging estimate, but the number is large on either end of the spectrum.


Steve Jobs recently upset a lot of people by saying that nobody reads books anymore, and hence the development of eReaders is irrelevant. Here's his quote, taken from the NYT:

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.
A lot of people have attacked that statement. But it looks like eReaders may have other issues to deal with. From ArsTechnica:
Survey data shows books have the highest "attachment" rating of any leisure media activity. People are more attached to their books than they are to their satellite television, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, social networks, video games, blogs, DVDs, and P2P file-swapping. And it's not like this high rate of affection for the book occurs only among a small group; books came in second only to "listen to the radio" in terms of the number of people who engage in those activities.

... When the survey asked about people's emotional attachment to paper books, 53 percent of respondents said that they would "never" or would "hate" to stop using them, and another 24 percent said they would be "uncomfortable."

When asked directly about the appeal of e-book readers, 39 percent of the respondents said that the readers were appealing or very appealing, but 61 percent had the opposite reaction.

Here's the silver lining:
The survey notes that familiarity with the devices seems to boost their attractiveness to most people, and 17 percent of respondents did say they would almost certainly purchase a reader once they learned about all of its features and benefits.
Even so, that's not a very high number. I have to wonder if that statistic would get a boost if Apple announced that it was making a super stylish eReading device oriented at hipsters and their teenaged emulators.


From the NYTimes:

Virtually all studies since then confirm that monosodium glutamate in normal concentrations has no effect on the overwhelming majority of people
Wikipedia seems to partially confirm this.
  • The 1987 Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization placed monosodium glutamate in the safest category of food ingredients.
  • A 1991 report by the European Community's (EC) Scientific Committee for Foods reaffirmed monosodium glutamate's safety and classified its "acceptable daily intake" as "not specified", the most favourable designation for a food ingredient. In addition, the EC Committee said, "Infants, including prematures, have been shown to metabolize glutamate as efficiently as adults and therefore do not display any special susceptibility to elevated oral intakes of glutamate."
  • A 1992 report from the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association stated that glutamate in any form has not been shown to be a "significant health hazard".
  • A 1995 FDA-commissioned report acknowledged that "An unknown percentage of the population may react to monosodium glutamate and develop monosodium glutamate symptom complex, a condition characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
    • Burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest
    • Numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
    • Tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms
    • Facial pressure or tightness
    • Chest pain
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Bronchospasm (difficulty breathing)
    • Drowsiness
    • Weakness
    • Sweating." This list of mostly very non-specific and common symptoms was compiled from anecdotal reports[5]
  • A 2002 report from researchers at Hirosaki University in Japan found rats fed on diets very high in glutamate (up to 20%) suffered eye damage. Lead researcher Hiroshi Ohguro said the findings might explain why, in eastern Asia, there is a high rate of normal-tension glaucoma.[6]

Another quote

Hillary Clinton in her victory speech:

"Ohio knows how to pick a President!"

Which is exactly why we've had eight years of George Bush.

Son of Super Tuesday

At this point, it sounds like the MSM is going to say that Hillary Clinton has staged an amazing comeback and we're now looking at a real contest again.

To that, I would say that the MSM really needs to stop covering this election. Nothing that's happened today contradicts any of the poll data that's been publicized on a daily basis for the last few weeks. It's just silly for anyone to say that today is a huge upset, or a huge swing in momentum, when the fact is that today's outcome has essentially been forecast for quite some time.

At this point, I'm just tired of all the attention being paid to the primaries. If they drag this out to July, as Hillary indicated that she would, then I may seriously start skipping over all related articles from now on.

Cute quote from CNN: "Hillary Clinton's won sort of a pyrrhic victory. Obama is the hope and inspiration of the Democratic party, and even for some Republicans. Going negative on him is sort of like killing Santa in front of the kids."

More on - Measuring musical diversity

I've been looking into some of the third-party uses of data. Some of the stuff is pretty cool. For instance, there are two online tools measuring diversity of taste. By both metrics, I'm not super-boring, but I'm not pushing any envelopes either. Here's a quick synopsis:

Range of musical artists:
I thought this was pretty cool. The actual test comes in two flavors, the standard eclectic and the super eclectic. This test looks at the first 5 (or 20) artists associated with artists in your Top 20 (or Top 50). The diversity of your tastes is then calculated as a percentage of the possible maximum (100 or 1000). I came up with a score of 468/1000. You can see how that stacks up to everyone else on in the following chart.

As I said, not impressive, but not shabby either.

AEP (Anti-Exponential Points):
This metric essentially looks at the number of plays your most favored artist gets vs. the number of plays of your 50th most favored artist. The underlying math looks a little stupid to me, but it does look at something that the previous metric avoids, namely the degree of concentration in the top tier. Anyway, I submitted myself to the test and got a 3.69/5, which again means I'm not super diverse, but I don't suck either. Unfortunately, these guys didn't put together a neat little histogram of their distributions.

There is, however, a group of high-scoring and low-scoring people. Both of them (and particularly the high-scoring set) seem to do nothing but listen to Radiohead all the time.

Some of you that actually visit the blog directly may have noticed the widget on the side. As of today, that widget is outdated. I signed up for in 2005 and was impressed by the core concept. I'm all about getting an external view on who I am and what I do, and was exactly that with regards to music. It's also pretty cool to see who your musical peers are and what they're listening to.

I stopped using for a while, because the service was still pretty clunky and the Scrobbler (where do they get these words?) would crash my computer pretty routinely. Besides, couldn't keep track of anything that I listened to off of the computer, which at that point was about 60% of my musical consumption. So, I let iTunes keep track of all my musical doings.

Today, I imported all of my iTunes history back into and am now using it to manage everything. I had to ditch my old profile, but in return, I get to see about 25x more data. Looking at the evidence, I'm struck by a few things about myself.

1. My listening habits are highly concentrated in a core set of artists. I wish I could pop the data into Excel so I could draw up the concentration chart.
2. I'm a lot less musically adventurous than I thought I was. Back in the day, I would have said that I'm pretty balanced across genres. The data doesn't lie - I'm a dyed-in-the-wool mainstream rock fan with indie leanings. Hip hop and electro are just blips on the radar of my listening habits.
3. I'm a lot less passionate about the music that I'm listening to today. My profile is almost entirely based on what I listened to about a year ago. Since then, I've barely listened to anything in my Top 20 artists/albums. Of the albums that I'm listening to now, they barely register in my overall charts.

If I ever have a kid, I'm going to have him scrobble pretty much everything he/she listens to. I think it would be so cool to have the entire history of your musical consumption ready for review. In case anyone's interested in seeing my tastes, ranging from roughly January 2006 to the present, take a look here.

Efficient markets

Robert Shiller in the NYTimes on information cascades:

ONE great puzzle about the recent housing bubble is why even most experts didn’t recognize the bubble as it was forming.


Three economists, Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch, in a classic 1992 article, defined what they call “information cascades” that can lead people into serious error. They found that these cascades can affect even perfectly rational people and cause bubblelike phenomena. Why? Ultimately, people sometimes need to rely on the judgment of others, and therein lies the problem. The theory provides a framework for understanding the real estate turbulence we are now observing.


The fundamental problem is that the information obtained by any individual — even one as well-placed as the chairman of the Federal Reserve — is bound to be incomplete. If people could somehow hold a national town meeting and share their independent information, they would have the opportunity to see the full weight of the evidence. Any individual errors would be averaged out, and the participants would collectively reach the correct decision.

Of course, such a national town meeting is impossible. Each person makes decisions individually, sequentially, and reveals his decisions through actions — in this case, by entering the housing market and bidding up home prices.

Suppose houses are really of low investment value, but the first person to make a decision reaches the wrong conclusion (which happens, as we have assumed, 40 percent of the time). The first person, A, pays a high price for a home, thus signaling to others that houses are a good investment.

The second person, B, has no problem if his own data seem to confirm the information provided by A’s willingness to pay a high price. But B faces a quandary if his own information seems to contradict A’s judgment. In that case, B would conclude that he has no worthwhile information, and so he must make an arbitrary decision — say, by flipping a coin to decide whether to buy a house.

The result is that even if houses are of low investment value, we may now have two people who make purchasing decisions that reveal their conclusion that houses are a good investment.

As others make purchases at rising prices, more and more people will conclude that these buyers’ information about the market outweighs their own.
First, this article reminds me of all those guys that tried to prove that there wasn't a housing crisis in '07 by pointing at market reactions. At least Ben Stein used external data points to hypothesize that nothing was happening.

Less snidely, I think this crystallizes/explains an argument that I've had against the efficiency of markets for a long time. Think about markets as a Wikipedia for pricing information. Looking past a lot of the obvious parallels (e.g. crowd sourcing, larger players having a marked impact on the outcome, etc.), there is one key difference. In writing a Wikipedia article, you could never cite Wikipedia as the source. As hypothesized above, this doesn't seem to be the case with the market.


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