What Advice Would you Give to Your Younger Self?

Listen to extremely successful people answer this question and you get pretty bored pretty quickly. “Take it easy, it’ll all be ok”, “don’t stress so much”, “love and live more”…

Their earlier selves were clearly serious strivers. It’s a nice thing about our world that the very successful got there by self sacrifice and hard work. But for some people, myself included, the advice to the younger self should amount to something more like:

Care more, relax less, life is short and you’re losing.

My younger self did didn’t need relaxation. I needed to correct the mismatch between ambition and effort. I needed pressure. Real pressure. I got there eventually but got there late.

Real pressure isn’t good for everyone so nice for me that it hasn’t driven me insane. And also good for us all that real pressure is easy to avoid in our society if it isn’t internally generated.*

But dodge that pressure at your ambition’s peril, if you care about that sort of thing.

*At least for the middle class, anyway. Certain segments of our society experience real pressure in living normal life (violence, poverty, addiciton, etc). That’s a different problem.

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Who’s At Your Table?

“If you could have dinner with four people, historical or living, who would be at that table?”

A common interview question but every answer I’ve heard ignores the premise of a dinner: A five-person dinner isn’t about you, it’s about the interaction of all five. Somehow this question gets translated to: if you could have four one-on-one conversations, who would they be with? Maybe that’s the question the interviewer wants to ask, but that would be a terrible dinner.

Here’s one idea: Ever heard of the Bronx High School of Science? Eight Nobel Prize winners went there. The next most for one high school is four. And four of the eight winners were there at the same time, two in the same class (classes of 47, 49, 50, 50) and all four won for physics. What the hell happened there? Extraordinary group of teachers that was in place only for a short time? Competitive students raising their game to match their peers? Something else? I’d put them around a dinner table and encourage reminiscence to try and understand what went on.

Here’s another idea that’s a bit more fantastical: let’s have a series of dinners with historical scientific figures, like Newton or Euclid at, say, age 40 or something, and drop them into a table with three experts in the fields these guys once dominated. How would they react to suddenly facing a series of people with far greater domain knowledge than they could possibly imagine? Could they handle being so inferior? Here’s a better idea: a series of dinners with a few figures at various ages: Newton at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60. Einstein the same, etc.

The point here is that historical figures are all people. I’d like to explore their humanity a bit. And mine, for that matter.

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Trolling Diet Nuts

So if we cared mainly about people’s health, we should cheer this effort by soda forms to push people to exercise. Even if that also causes people to cut down less on soda. A population that exercises more doesn’t weight much less, but it lives much longer. In fact, exercise seems to be one of the biggest ways we know of by which an individual can influence their health. (Much bigger than medicine, for example.)

I suspect, however, that what bothers most people most about fat people isn’t that they’ll die younger, its instead that they look ugly and low status, and so make them also look low status by association. So we don’t want people near us to look fat. All else equal we might also want them to live longer, but that altruistic motive can’t compete much with our status motive.

That’s Robin Hanson. Follow the link for references to reaearch that back the health claims. I love this for two reasons.

First, it’s always fun to be contrarian and cheer a category of companies (soft drink firms) that educated white people like me are ‘supposed’ to hate.

More importantly, I love the chance to talk about how asking slightly different questions yields very different answers. It’s easy to be lazy and think that “What is the most effective cause of better health” is the same as “what makes people thin”.

It’s not, even if “not being obese” is on the list of things that improve health (but not #1).

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Words of Wisdom about Actuarial Science

My predictions are boring, and always the same:

More of the same ahead

My predictions are usually right, but they get no respect, and don’t deserve any.

That’s from Scott Sumner, not an actuary.

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Climate Quote

“We should really be aware that if you go back 10,000 years, the climate goes apesh*t,” he says. “People generally have no idea about this, but these warm-cold-warm-cold patterns are standard for the Pleistocene. The stability of the Holocene, which human civilisation was built upon, is totally anomalous.

More here.

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Esperanto

Like its vastly more successful digital cousins — C++, HTML, Python — Esperanto is an artificial language, designed to have perfectly regular grammar, with none of the messy exceptions of natural tongues. Out loud, all that regularity creates strange cadences, like someone speaking Italian slowly while chewing gum. William Auld, the Modernist Scottish poet who wrote his greatest work in Esperanto, was nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times, but never won. But it is supremely easy to learn, like a puzzle piece formed to fit into the human brain.

Invented at the end of the 19th century, in many ways it presaged the early online society that the web would bring to life at the end of the 20th. It’s only ever been spoken by an assortment of fans and true believers spread across the globe, but to speak Esperanto is to become an automatic citizen in the most welcoming non-nation on Earth.

The League of Nations almost adopted Esperanto, but the idea was shot down by the French delegate. Zamenhof was Jewish, so Adolf Hitler denounced Esperanto as a language designed to unify the Jewish diaspora, and the Nazis were officially anti-Esperanto. Joseph Stalin was reportedly an Esperantist, but he turned on the language in the late ’30s, calling it a “language of spies,” and started purging people who spoke it.

Ayatolla Khomeini, too, waffled on Esperanto. Shortly after the Iranian Revolution, he urged his people to learn the language as an anti-imperialist counterpoint to English, and an official translation of the Qur’an followed. But adherents of the Baha’i faith had been fans of Esperanto for decades, and Khomeini was definitely not a fan of Baha’i, so his enthusiasm dimmed.

And Baha’i’s not the only smaller religion that’s embraced Esperanto as a liturgical language. In Brazil, which has one of the world’s largest populations of Esperantists, the language is intimately associated with the séance-centric Spiritist movement, and many followers of the neo-Shinto Japanese religion Oomoto have studied some Esperanto.

Mao Zedong liked Esperanto too. The Communist Party of China has published an Esperanto magazine, El Popola Ĉinio, since 1950, and state radio stations still regularly broadcast in the language.

And perhaps most famously, George Soros grew up speaking Esperanto, though his public involvement with the language hasn’t gone beyond getting his father’s Esperanto memoirs translated into English.

More here via MR. I had never heard of this language before.

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Uber Winners

Who wins with Uber, other than consumers.

On the positive side, the so-called sharing economy allows workers to use their time more flexibly. Drivers can earn money without working full time, and without having to wait around at taxi stands for the next passenger. The workers can use their newly acquired spare time for other purposes, including studying for college, teaching themselves programming or simultaneously offering themselves out for different sharing services: If no one wants a ride, go help someone with repairs around the house.

In short, these developments benefit those workers who are willing and able to turn their spare time to productive uses. These workers tend to be self-starters and people who are good at shifting roles quickly. Think of them as disciplined and ambitious task switchers. That describes a lot of people, but of course, it isn’t everybody.

That’s where some of the problems come in. Uber drivers are much more likely to have a college degree than are taxi drivers or chauffeurs, according to the Hall and Krueger study. It found striking differences between the two groups: 48 percent of Uber drivers have a college degree or higher, whereas that figure is only 18 percent for taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

If I’m interviewing you, not being a self starter is a deal killer. We can’t afford not to take advantage of this world. Sorry (sorta).

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