(more) On Zimbabwe

To demonstrate its broad applicability, Aflatoun [a financial-literacy programme designed for six- to 14-year-olds] was piloted in economies beset by different difficulties. Zimbabwe, for example, was selected for its astronomical inflation rate. The course was adapted to encourage children to save by buying assets such as pencils, which, unlike the country’s money, could be a store of value. [Economist]


Thought for the new year

Question posed in L’Intransigeant during the summer of 1922:

An American scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed, and in such a sudden way, that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. If this prediction were confirmed, what do you think would be its effect on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm? Finally, as far as you’re concerned, what would you do in this last hour?”

Marcel Proust, in a letter, responds:

I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it–our life–hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

‘But let all this threaten to become impossible for ever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

‘The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.”

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Feeding the poor: A sustainable contribution model


Give free rice to hungry people by playing a simple word game.

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Posting for October is effectively over

Off for a month of gallivanting around East Asia, but I am leaving a barrage of questions in my absence…

From Radical Evolution:

Remember the comic-book superheroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s, from Superman to Wonder Woman? Most of their superpowers right now either exist or are in engineering. If you can watch a car chase in Afghanistan with a Predator, you’ve effectively got telescopic vision. If you can figure out what’s inside a cave by peering into the earth with a seismic ground pinger, you’ve got X-ray vision. Want super strength? At the University of California at Berkeley, the U.S. Army has got a prototype exoskeleton suit that allows a soldier to carry 180 pounds as if it were only 4.4 pounds. At Natick Labs in Massachusetts, the U.S. Army imagines that such an exoskeleton suit may ultimately allow soldiers to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

…[talk of pills that keep fighter pilots alert and awake for a full week, pills that numb the biological function that triggers pain (NYSE:DNA), machines that telekinetically connect monkeys to computers (OTC:CYKN), etc.]…

‘The next frontier,’ says Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the UCLA School of Medicine, ‘is our own selves.’”

Should these marvels become mainstream, what will become of the human experience?

Ruminating on the work of Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton writes:

It is not the contented or the flowing who have left many of the profound testimonies of what it means to be alive. It seems that such knowledge has usually been the privileged preserve of, and the only blessing granted to, the violently miserable.”

If technology succeeds in removing the concept of suffering from the human experience, what will happen to our art? Are we attracted to works created by ailing spirits through the common suffering link, and witnessing art and great literature are the closest most of us will ever come to realizing an eloquent expression of our pangs? Without suffering, will we cease to appreciate suffering? Will the work of Hirst (pill cabinets and diamond skulls) and Koons (Michael Jackson and the Hulk) then become the gold standard for ‘enhanced’ humans, while Caravaggio evolves to represent the ailing spirit of ‘natural’ human existence? Will Caravaggio’s work then warrant a stigma in a world where perfect physical specimens inhabit the earth? I wonder if we’re, to some extent, already seeing this reflected in asset valuation growth rates of contemporary art versus works characteristic of past movements.


13Fs, and other public displays of his thought process [try here and here] reveal–perhaps–the mind of a type of man Immanuel Kant may have envisioned when he composed, embedded within a larger answer, the following response to the question: “What is Enlightenment?” 

For there will always be a few who think for themselves, even among those appointed as guardians of the common mass. Such guardians, once they have themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and for the duty of all men to think for themselves.

And, following in the footsteps of Wally Amos (of Famous Amos fame), other distinguished gentlemen, and dare I mention Dan Quayle, Peter Thiel (of recent We’re so far apart with what we think it’s worth and what other people do it doesn’t make sense for us to have conversations’ fame) will speak about “Technology and the End of Politics” at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as the Burkett Miller Distinguished Guest Lecturer this Monday. 


Evolutionary Algorithms

Faster and cheaper than ever
, supercomputers used to simulate the evolutionary process (many millions of generations/iterations) in technological design are now innovating within the span of days:

Among [the devices] revealed at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference held in London this summer were long-life USB memory sticks, superfast racing-yacht keels, ultra-high-bandwidth optical fibres, high performance Wi-Fi antennae (evolved to avoid patent fees), cochlear implants that can optimise themselves to individual patients and a cancer-biopsy analyser that was evolved to match a human pathologist’s tumour-spotting skills.

Perhaps the most cunning use of an evolutionary algorithm, though, is by Dr [John] Koza [of Stanford University, who is one of the pioneers of the field]. His team at Stanford developed a Wi-Fi antenna for a client who did not want to pay a patent-licence fee to Cisco Systems. The team fed the algorithm as much data as they could from the Cisco patent and told the software to design around it. It succeeded in doing so. The result is a design that does not infringe Cisco’s patent—and is more efficient to boot. A century and a half after Darwin suggested natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, engineers have proved him right once again. [The Economist]

Anatomy of a “fire sale”

Überreicht: Das Otaku

These (
↲-anyone want to translate the Spanish for me?,) guys (along with the Craigslist posters) may be the manifestation of some sort of twisted Malthusian population equilibrator:  

“Naruse is part of a mushrooming fantasy world in the city’s Akihabara district, where make-believe maids are spilling out from their original novelty cafes to lure mostly male customers to reflexology centers and souvenir stalls.

…The widening popularity of the phenomenon is causing some researchers to warn about a growing pool of introverted faddists unable to engage with real people. Akihabara is home to about 60 stores where “maids” greet “masters” known as otaku — Japanese for geeks.

The shops allow otaku obsessed with video games, animated films known as anime, manga comics and action figures to sidestep contact with mainstream society, says Keiichi Kashiwabara, a philosophy professor at University of the Air, a government- subsidized school open to all high school graduates.

`Many young people are wrapped up in their own fantasy worlds,’ says Kashiwabara…. `The fact that maid shops are spreading means that people are becoming socially inept all over Japan.’

`In the past, people used to go to pubs [and those of us who will pass on our genes still do on occasion],’ Amemiya says. `But people who grew up playing video games don’t really know how to relate to others.’” [Bloomberg]

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Kahneman, On thinking

Lots of very very good people went on with the missing parameter for three hundred years—theory has the blinding effect that you don’t even see the problem, because you are so used to thinking in its terms. There is a way it’s always done, and it takes somebody who is naïve, as I was, to see that there is something very odd, and it’s because I didn’t know this theory that I was in fact able to see that.”

—Daniel Kahneman [link]

Stephen Roach Op-Ed Piece

Roach reminds readers (ahem, the FOMC) that altruism is not the impetus driving foreign entities to fund our nation’s debt, and that
no nation has ever devalued its way into prosperity.” [NYT]