Monthly Archives: August 2010

Earliest personal account of slavery

According to William Cook, there is only one ancient account of slavery written by a slave that still survives: a letter written by Saint Patrick. We have many ancient documents that were written by slaves, but not documents about their

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Robust prior illustration

In Bayesian statistics, prior distributions “get out of the way” as data accumulate. But some prior distributions get out of the way faster than others. The influence of robust priors decays faster when the data conflict with the prior. Consider

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Posted in Statistics

Inside the multitasking and marijuana study

A study came out in 2005 saying that multitasking lowers your IQ more than smoking marijuana does. David Freedman interviewed Dr. Glenn Wilson, author of the study. Wilson’s first response was “Oh, that damned thing.” Someone from Hewlett-Packard contacted Glenn

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Weekend miscellany

History Russia in color, a century ago Ancient Greek statues in color The most isolated man on the planet Why Tim Walker isn’t finishing his PhD Machine learning Peter Skomoroch’s blog list Machine learning book list Technology Machine animations Datacenter

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Two tragic animal-to-human studies

David Freedman gives two examples of animal-to-human studies that went horribly wrong. One actually happened. The other is hypothetical. The actual study involves the experimental drug TGN1412. The compound was found safe in animal studies at 500 times the dose

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Posted in Science

Predicting height from genes

How well can you predict height based on genetic markers? A 2009 study came up with a technique for predicting the height of a person based on looking at the 54 genes found to be correlated with height in 5,748

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Is helpful software really helpful?

In his new book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr relates an experiment by Christof van Nimwegen on computer-human interaction. Users were asked to solve a puzzle using software. Some users were given software designed to be very helpful, highlighting permissible moves

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Posted in Software development

Bandwidth is not the bottleneck

Google’s Urs Hölzle gives the following world-wide average statistics regarding internet use. Average page load: 4.9 seconds Average page size: 320 kilobytes Average bandwidth: 225 kilobytes/second If bandwidth were the only limitation, the average page should load four times faster

Posted in Computing

Weekend miscellany

Food and drink Pairing wine and fast food Champagne tastes better if you pour it like beer Computer science What sorting algorithms sound like C++ compilation speed Math Mathematical surprises Thesaurus of mathematical languages Minimalism What we say no to

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Defining minimalism

I stirred up some controversy yesterday with an article critical of extreme minimalism. Some people took my article as an attack on minimalism in general. I wanted to clarify a few thoughts on minimalism. I’m attracted to the general idea

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Selfish minimalism

I saw an article the other day about a man who had chosen to get rid of all of his possessions except for a fair amount of computer equipment, a couch, and a few odds and ends.  (I’m not linking

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Acknowledging problems versus solving problems

People want their problems acknowledged more than they want them solved, at least at first. That’s one of the points from Thomas Limoncelli’s book Time Management for System Administrators. Suppose two system administrators get an email about similar problems. The

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Contrasting Tolkien and Lewis

Ralph Wood gave a lecture for Big Ideas contrasting J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Wood begins his lecture by explaining that though the two men have much in common, this commonality has been emphasized to the point

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How to compute log factorial

Factorials grow very quickly, so quickly the results can easily exceed the limits of computer arithmetic. For example, 30! is too big to store in a typical integer and 200! is too big to store (even approximately) in a standard

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John Cleese on creativity

Here’s a 10-minute talk by John Cleese on creativity: From about 6:20 into the video: If you’re racing around all day, ticking things off on lists, looking at your watch, making phone calls, and generally just keeping all the balls

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