Monday, May 30, 2011

Volcanos are Best

Here is an interesting study about different energy sources and how economical they are. It is a hard to read graph, because there are different ways to implement each technology. Each "mode" is given a darker stripe. 

The cheapest energy by far is geothermal. So if you live near a volcano, you need to drill for steam. It is even a reason to move next door to volcano -- although periodic lava flows and explosive eruptions are a problem. 

As we all know hydropower from dams is cheap power too.  Surprisingly a related water-power technology, ocean tides are not cost-effective. It seems the tidal energy systems need to be big, heavy and expensive. 

Burning wood or farm debris for heat is cheap too; this is wood gasification and then running a regular internal combustion engine on that. 

Using the sun to produce hot water for your house, also makes sense. Using it to make electricity is pretty expensive. Solar power is best used to make heat not electricity. 

All this comes from the UN Climate Change group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Punishment for Rape Around the World

IMF Chief and French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn got caught raping his hotel maid in New York. This led the French to say that American law is tougher on rape than French law.  In fact the London Daily Mail reports that current French President Sarkozy warned Strauss-Kahn about American prosecution for sex crimes, ‘Over there they don't joke about this sort of thing,’ Sarkozy reportedly said.

I was wondering if this was really true, and I tried to look up rape sentences. This turned out to be hard to do; for example the US has different laws in each state, but the average time served is 5.4 years nationwide; the average sentence is 11.8 year.

In France the standard sentence is 15 years. 20 years for raping a minor. 30 years for killing the victim, and over 30 years for torture. Many countries have similar escalating sentences.

This is cobbled together from a variety of sources, the best at Wikipedia.

There are a number of countries where the punishment is death. In Britain the punishment is "life" although I bet there is more subtlety than that.

Finally the Bible says that  a man raping a woman has to pay the father a 50 shekels of silver, and then marry the woman. Raping a married woman is punishable by death.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

World Stock Markets are Highly Correlated, but not in Japan

After the stock market crash, instead of hiding my statements in a drawer, I put them on a spreadsheet and stared at them. Maybe that was masochistic. 
Staring did not help much, so I decided to put the stock indexes there too. Now I had something to compare to. does that really well, but I did not know about it at the time. I also wanted to see the different countries. 

What I learned was that my statements followed the indexes, and the indexes followed each other. Now I just watch the indexes, and save the extra work.

In 2009, I put up a post showing that all the indexes were correlated.  Everything was correlated at 0.9 to 0.97. This is a problem, and I'll post on why later this week. 

Time has past, and now we see some indexes tracking differently. This should NOT be surprising, because all these different economies should be different. Anyway, now we see Japan tracking worse than everywhere else.  Why, well it dropped 10% after the tsunami in March. It was already behind, but now it is way behind. Germany is best. China in the middle. 

January 1, 2010 is the zero point. These are percent changes of the various indexes since then. 

Below is the correlation matrix for the different indexes.  Numbers close to one are most correlated, and smaller numbers have the most diversification. The red numbers representing the Japanese Nikkei index are the only ones with much diversification; the Chinese Hang Sang is second, but 0.87 is still pretty correlated. 
Correlation matrix on the above stock indexes. Sorry for having 6 to 9 decimal figures.

Significance - During the crash and the climb-out, money kept flowing around the world equalizing returns. Finance had became a big statistical game, and most of the investments were short-term bets place by computerized arbitrage systems. (See my post on high frequency trading.) That still may be true, but at least we are seeing some difference, and maybe the fundamental soundness of economies can enter in to their valuation. A welcome return of investing over trading. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger Crashes -- My Thursday Post is Off in the Ether.

Blogger (or Blogspot) is on life support today as old posts from Wednesday through Friday got taken down. Blogger is the host of this blog, obviously.

Google, the parent of Blogger is not saying what happened or when it will go away. Happily new posts are going up again, and I reposted my post from Thursday from the copy on Facebook.

Blogger mostly works fine though, and I suppose I can't complain too much for something that is free.

Every Previous Theory is Wrong!!

This giant wooden elephant is not a scientific theory,
but it is pretty cool. 
"Every previous theory of science was proved wrong, so its just a matter of time until current theories are proved wrong."

Is that a great bit of babbling? The first time I heard it, it really slowed me down. Unless a theory is disproven and replaced, it is not a "previous theory."

Some pretty sound "previous theories" like Newton's Gravity, still work pretty well, although they known not to be actually true.

Ptolemy's theory of the solar system predicts the motion of the planets pretty well, but it has the theory completely wrong.

Each new theory of science is zeroing in on the truth, and is not a random shot in the dark.

Also some theories have impressive antiquity for example, the Atomic Theory for example, has been around for a hundred years in its current form, and two millennia in general principle.

The Theory of Gravity has been around since 1666, and even though quantum gravity and General Relativity might push it aside, high school kids are still learning it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Anti-Science Cholesterol Deniers Deserve to Die!

I gotta say that I am tired of science deniers: evolution, global warming, and now cholesterol. Why are people so skeptical of sensible topics and forget skepticism when they need it: astrology, homeopathy, herbal medicine, and the Laufer Curve?

The notion that cholesterol does not cause heart disease got me started.

Look at the graph at the right. See how a small increase in cholesterol from 199 to 240 increases the risk of heart disease by 80%.  If you were an actuary, I'd be able to prove that to you.

There is plenty of data -- if data mattered to people. A Lancet meta-study from 2007 that summarized 61 studies involving 900,000 people!!

This showed that middle aged adults were TWICE as likely to have a heart attack with high cholesterol. As you get older, the effect of cholesterol is a little less, only 1 in 3.  High cholesterol also increases the chances of stroke.

I think juicy steak corrupts people's minds. If you disagree, try the Flat Earth Society.

Go Adam Beane! What an Obama Head!

This Obama head looks like it can talk. Makes me think it is photoshopped. Actually it is from Adam Beane. What patience this guy must have!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pascal Bruckner on Happiness

Pascal Bruckner on Happiness was on the podcast Philosophy Bites. One of my favorite podcasts.

This discussion takes humanity from a distant past where happiness was an un-important distraction to today's world where happiness is arguably a duty. Bruckner has a book called "The Duty to be Happy.  The idea is that people are obliged to be happy in order to feel good about themselves.

It is interesting the capitalism started as a frugal ideology as people saved to produce things, but now it is a happiness oriented ideology with an aesthetic to consume things.

Also interesting are Bruckner's three kinds of happiness: a moment of grace and joy, the feeling our life is moving in the right direction, and a different quality of life from ordinary days.

See also my two happiness and artificial intelligence posts.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Americans and Money

 We all spend too much time trying to make money compared to what we would rather be doing.

Often I say that if people did not have to eat, then there would be many more poets and artists. Similarly I tell my kids to be practical about their job prospects.

Every year Parade Magazine runs an issue on What People Make, which is one of their most popular. I came across some census and polling data on income, and I thought I'd share it.

Data from the Census Dept 2010
The first graph shows two things, first  income for men  has been flat since 1974.  This is all in 2009 dollars -- meaning the effect of inflation has been erased.

This means all the GDP growth has not been going to individual guys. Of course there are more people now that before, but each individual is making the same amount.

Second women still make less than men. This is improving, but not that fast. 77% is surprisingly low.

I am not going to engage the sexual politics of income disparity between men and women. Way too complicated for today.

The above figure shows the average income in the USA in 2009 dollars. The average income is about $50,000. Middle class according to the census bureau goes from half that to 1.5 times that, or 25,000 to 75,000.

From Pew Research 2008
 One of the keys to the American Psyche is the American Dream, which is that anybody who works hard can become successful, for example become President.

This figure shows people assessment of how well their standard of living compares to their parent's.  See my previous post on this topic.

Upper income and middle income groups believe in the American dream. The lower income group is divided on whether the kids will have it better than their parents.

The housing price crash has certainly helped young people buy a house, and also degraded many older folks standard of living.

On the other hand, the rising cost of education is putting a higher and higher hurdle in front of high achievers from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Education is an important part of equality of opportunity.