02 July 2010

Surprise! (Not)

No, I'm not really surprised by any of this. And if you read this blawg, you're probably cynical enough that you aren't either. But the wide-eyed credulousness common to contemporary journalism (etc.) appears rampant...

  • How many bars? Well, less than the display showed: Apple admits that the formula used to calculate signal strength has always overstated signal strength for the iPhone. Edward Tufte would probably smile and point out that the display meme itself was misleading even when calculated correctly — there's no reason to use a multidimensional graphic (multiple bars of differing lengths) to display a simple scalar quantity... except that some idiot graphic artist somewhere thought it looked kewl.
  • Mathematicians don't make a lot of money (unless, that is, they're modelling something for someone else, such as trying to find order in the chaos of market or oil fields). This story from WaPo somehow implies that mathematicians are crazy... and that may (or may not) be true in this particular instance, in which a mathematician turned down a prize for a discovery. Well, not exactly: The mathematician didn't turn down the money, but the credit, in favor of his deceased mother's previously unrecognized work.
  • Professor Krugman notes all too accurately that

    When I was young and naïve, I believed that important people took positions based on careful consideration of the options. Now I know better. Much of what Serious People believe rests on prejudices, not analysis. And these prejudices are subject to fads and fashions.

    This particular time, he's decrying the "policy elite"'s rejection of Keynsian spending against recession. For the record, whether or not Krugman's proposed treatment is right/better, he's certainly right in his diagnosis: The presumption in favor of "always reduce government deficits" is based on virtually no verifiable, replicable data whatsoever. Of course, the underlying meme of conventional-wisdom-drives-policy is not limited to economic policy, or to any particular viewpoint. At the grossest level, it reflects the inductive fallacy: One uneducated melaninically enhanced slave being extended to the idea that persons of West African descent in the US are racially less intelligent (the Bell Curve), without regard to selection bias; and more than a few presumptions from across the so-called "political spectrum" on economics and other aspects of policy.

    The short version of Krugman's editorial is much simpler: Ideology is blind faith, and blind faith proves nothing. Unfortunately, given the religious idiocy of the power elite in this country, if you say that even once you'll be in the policy wilderness forever.

  • The article title says it best:

    Night of the Living Wonks:
    Toward an international relations theory of zombies.

  • Lee Goldberg has a fascinating piece from multiple perspectives on the problems of adapting books to screen. I think, though, that — despite the wide range of perspectives in the piece — he's missing the most-important one: Books are self-paced; film is not; and, as any decent chessplayer could tell you, at the critical points tempo is all.
  • This year's Bulwer-Lytton Contest "winners" were rather disappointing. Perhaps it's just that political and nonfiction writing this year has made these otherwise excrutiatingly bad opening sentences seem so... ordinary.
  • Two sides of the "starving artist" problem: Amazon's bait (presuming that there's a deal at all) and corporate patronage's switch. And then there's piracy and counterfeiting to deal with afterward.