Friday, November 16, 2007

Barry Bonds, voting, and playing hooky

If you haven't seen the paper today... Barry Bonds is being indicted on four counts of perjury (for denying the knowing use of steroids and HGH) and obstruction of justice. Good. Cheaters suck.

The Freakonomics guys blogged on voting last week. Basically, they said you don't find many economists who vote, because the chance of your one vote determining the outcome of the election is slim to none. I had the a similar thought regarding class attendance while in lecture today. It's painfully apparent in high school, but it's even true in college. In many cases due to lowering standards and our current grading system, missing one day of class almost never has a significant effect.

If you approach each class as independent of the other classes (depending on the material, this can sometimes be a valid assumption), gaming theory* would tell me not to any classes (except tests and quizzes). Extra credit or pop-quiz potentials are a start towards giving every class an increased payback; attendance grades clearly do the trick (and students come to class for the wrong reasons). Yes, the good classes are the classes you go to because, "if you miss one, you're screwed."

Rationally, voting is a waste of time, as is going to many lectures... but superrationally, I should go to all my classes and hit the polls every time.

*The problem and implications of playing hooky from lecture or the polls bears a striking resemblance to the traveler's dilemma (similar to the prisoner's dilemma).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Great minds (warning... math terms folllow)

The question was posed to me on Saturday... should the frequency of great minds in history being getting higher, or slowing down?

Assumption #1: As society progresses, the scope of the problems faced by great minds become exponentially more complex.

Assumption #2: At the same time, previous advances increase both the probability of great minds being afforded a chance to dwell on these problems (rather than say, hunting for food)... previous advances provide resources to help great minds solve the increasingly complex problems (say, learning from a teacher, rather than teaching themselves algebra and physics).

What is the shape of the line marking efficacy of resources in aiding to find new solutions? Assumption#3: I'm inclined to believe the benefit of new technologies will be best described by an exponentially decreasing trend (i.e. the wheel helped more than the internet - or oral communication more than written com., more than radio, more than TV, and so on.). Enter Calc 2... if the trend is convergent, it's sum (or integral to time=now) has a horizontal asymptote, and there's a limit to human progress (but not necessarily a limit to knowledge... just a point we can't pass); if the trend is divergent... there is no limit to what society can do.
*clearly, the points are opinions... but you get the idea

Assumption #4: Humans are evolving at a negligible rate... the distribution of cognitive capacity today is basically equal to that of humans one thousand years ago, there are just a lot more of us. (I'm talking natural ability... clearly we have more teaching and resources, see assumption 2)

So the question is... Which is currently more powerful, the benefits of our previous advances, or the increasing complexity of our current problems?

Sorry for all the maths... I just can't help myself. I expect zero comments on this post :-)

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I have run across a couple of sites in the last few days that I really like. Indexed and Class War Panda (advisory: extreme left bias). What I like about them is that they use pictures instead of the thousands of words I rely on. Indexed is a bit more light hearted, and it reminds me of my favorite youtube video... but I like both of them.

I've also been visiting the Future of Humanity Institute blog (of the Oxford Philosophy department) for quite awhile, but just now have decided to add them to my links.

Last but not least, an acquaintance of mine has taken the plunge and has started a small business. He sells knock-off sunglasses for $9. If you need some cheap shades that look good, check him out.

There is a cyclocross race in Columbia this Saturday. Shannon Miller is putting it together and I think it's going to be pretty fun. Flier here.

While I'm advertising... Columbia Couriers is still up and running, and always looking for new business. Give us a try, pass the word on, or let me know if you have an idea that might work well for us.

Monday, November 05, 2007

John Edwards and sexism

The Times today had a short quoting Geraldine Ferraro saying, "John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours they way they attacked her... It's O.K. in this country to be sexist..."
Give me a break. Edwards did not direct any negative comments to Hillary's gender. He attacked her political stances. All the candidates are attacking Hillary because she is comfortably leading in the polls and shows no signs of weakening (all this despite her vague, stock answers in national forums... which won't likely change until she's won the primaries or falls in the polls). John Edwards may or may not be sexist... but his criticism doesn't imply it.

Increasingly today, it's labeled as sexist to criticize a woman. I've run into this problem twice in the past 6 months. Once I was labeled as sexist for saying that women get out of speeding tickets more than men (they do...). Just last week I was called sexist for saying that although there are thousands of attractive women on Mizzou's campus, many of them will just end up being overweight and sedentary adults. Of course, given the current statistics and trends... it's not a bad guess. The accuser was a bit more accepting when I said the same was true for men, but we weren't talking about men, so I didn't feel it necessary to mention them.

The point is... there's nothing wrong with criticizing anyone or anything if you have a logical and objective motivation and argument.

I hope Obama raises to first in the polls so Al Sharpton can call Edwards racist. Ridiculous.