Monday, January 28, 2008

Marginal Revolution book forum, The Logic of Life, Chapter 2

The second chapter is discussed. Fabio Rojas has a great discussion. From this, I'm realizing that I don't have an objection to people being mostly rational, most of the time. I object to equilibrium. Game theory was developed in the framework of equilibrium, and outside of ideal situations like a poker game, I don't see where it applies.

It's like fluid dynamics. We can write down an exact equation for how fluids flow. (Lorentz or somebody, I should know this). But when we try to solve them, they are horrendously complicated, and exhibit chaotic behavior. So instead, for practical results, we using finite simulations, where we don't get the exact answer, but limit ourselves to some time and spatial resolution. That is often good enough, and gets better with every cycle of Moore's law.

But how do we tell when it's "good enough"? With fluid dynamics, we can see some of the results in films - digital water has gotten better, from The Abyss to Titanic to the whirlpool in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (or 3?). What about economics?

More thoughts: lots of simulation code locked up inside the Wall Street trading firms - they hire physicists and coders all the time.

Companies evolve and learn: we can simulate that, what does it tell us?

Here's the question(s) I really want answered: Are the notions of a mostly rational actor and equilibrium linked? Is equilibrium really that useful? Might it be mostly misleading? What can the mostly rational actor explain by itself?

I suppose equilibrium is just a useful fiction.

Every time I try to draw a conclusion, I feel that I don't know anything.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Launch external editor for file:// urls in Firefox

We maintain many docs in html format on a local shared drive. I wanted to launch my html editor of choice from within Firefox. I found the extension Launchy that does what I want.

Unfortunately, it didn't find Komposer, the bug-fix release of Nvu, automatically. I had to generate a launchy.xml file as explained on the main page.

I also learned that the 'command' entry should not contain double quotes! Otherwise Launchy ignores the entry.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Marginal Revolution book forum, The Logic of Life

I'm going to at least follow along with the book forum over at Marginal Revolution. I've read just the intro and first chapter so far. I was sighing a bit at the emphasis on the rational actor, but heartened as Tim Hartford took pains to dismantle the 'Economic Man', who can perfectly respond to all new information with perfect solutions to partial differential equations. There is much more acknowledgment of partial information, human shortcuts, and even irrational behavior. So far totally missing is the interesting new work involving computer simulations, as in The Origin of Wealth, or as Adam says in Mandelbrot's book.

The Logic of Life, by Tim Harford

Update: First installment on Wed. The author, Tim Harford, is commenting on the main posts and replying to comments.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Baghdad Burning, by Riverbend

Subtitle: Girl Blog from Iraq
ISBN: 155861489-3

It's wrenching to read. I've sometime tried to imagine what it would be like to live through a war, and I've shied away from it. I feel strong empathy for her and her family, and I feel ashamed at the actions that my country has taken in Iraq. The book publishes the first year of her blog, and covers capturing Sadam, the first suppression in Falloojeh, and the Abu Ghraib torture abuse photo scandal. Her view of the early Iraq government is telling - sarcastic, the 'Puppets', and dismissive of these exiles and outsiders who don't have much invested in Iraq, except an opportunity to grab power.

Try to imagine living in a city, which reaches 100+ degrees every day in the summer, with electricity on for 2 hours, off for 4. Water available only some of the time, and pressure so low that it only comes out the lower outside faucet. Riverbend is unusually articulate for a computer programmer. I think she's still going at riverbendblog, but the last post in 2007 has her leaving Iraq with her family. Who's left?

Recommended, but not for too much longer. The situation it portrayed in 2003-2004 is drifting from the current reality.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Books

I haven't decided how to use this tool yet, so I've not posted in a bit. I'm working on reviews of:
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • Politics Lost
  • Coffin for Dimitrios
  • Visionary in Residence: Stories, by Bruce Sterling
  • possibly the Team Rodent, Disney rant pamphlet
  • Baghdad Burning, by riverbend, I'm currently reading...
Does anyone care to discuss?

Adam reviewed The Origin of Wealth, and I should respond again.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

by Michael Chabon.
I loved it. Highly recommended.

Mild spoilers ahead!

The distorted history of comic books is explored, through the very personal saga of two creators. Kavalier is jewish, and is unable to save his family from the Nazis after he escapes. Clay is homosexual, but doesn't realize it until later in life. He then suppresses it when he experiences persecution and abuse.

Some of it is familiar, but I was drawn in (ha!) by the unlikely combination of subjects that meshed in the narrative. A new chapter that tells the story of a comic book character - but wait, is it a character? engaging.

I haven't tried to track down whether the congressional hearing condemning comics was real, but it felt like it was taken from a real event, and the exposure of Clay as a homosexual on the second day was added. The remark that, paraphrasing, he should have said that adding a side-kick to a hero immediately increases sales by 19% or whatever was memorable for me.

The heart wrenching preposterousness of war reminded me of Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. The combination with aspects of fantasy reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.

Info at PBSwap