Archive for October, 2006

If all stories were written like science fiction stories

Friday, October 27th, 2006


This is a very interesting piece. It is a description of a typical plane flight, but with an emphasis on the technologies involved, much in the way science fiction typically does. It really highlights how science fiction can just be a style of writing, and not a genre in of itself. This point has previously been argued for Asimov’s Bailey and Olivaw Robot series, which are detective novels written in the science fiction style.

Hedge Funds and Insider Trading

Friday, October 20th, 2006


The NYT published an editorial today on how information available to hedge funds by virtue of their being involved with trading loan derivatives may effectively mean some kind of insider trading.

Insider trading is interesting because the definition of who is an insider has everything to do with game theory. On one hand, you want people to capitalize on information so that there is incentive to spread the information faster, resulting in higher efficiency. On the other hand, if few enough people know something to begin with, it becomes profitable to withhold that information and release it in a disruptive manner such as to reap maximum profit.

Motifs in Science

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

I am planning a course for MIT’s IAP period next year. The course will be about patterns that keep coming up over and over again in the physical sciences.

The ideas that I have come up with so far will be on a page of the same name on this blog.

Update: Have given up on the course, think that a website would be a better use of time. 

A second language ‘changes personality’

Sunday, October 15th, 2006


I have long felt this to be true. Definitely is for me, I am a completely different person speaking English than in Mandarin. In fact, even the two dialects I use in English have different personalities associated with them.

Salon Chaos

Monday, October 9th, 2006

I attended a meeting with a local Taiwanese discussion group the other day. We watched a documentary on the life of three rice farmers in Tainan, Taiwan. This was followed with a discussion on the economic factors leading to the extinction of the occupation in Taiwan. These came up – ideas of economic comparative advantage, realities of sociopolitical structure, and philosophies behind robust personal happiness. It was a good discussion.

People are evidently willing to get together to talk about important issues. In fact, a few hours of dedicated time is easier to get than trying to get people to write to a forum with their ideas. Talking is easier than writing.

The transient nature of the discussion is regrettable though. I’m working on a format for generating web-publishable content from these very meaningful discussions.

Mind Control

Saturday, October 7th, 2006


They used a burst of magnetic pulses called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – produced by coils held over the scalp – to temporarily shut off activity in the DLPFC. Now, when faced with the opportunity to spitefully reject a cheeky low cash offer, subjects were actually more likely to take the money.

Erm. Hold on there. Influencing thoughts using ElectroMagnetic fields? Asimov’s mentalic robots are closer than we think.


Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

“I would also really like to caution against the type of logic that “I don’t think they understand the … enough to make such suggestions.” exemplifies. By saying that, one is evaluating the validity of a statement purely on the basis of who said it, and not on what was said.

The idea that people should be restricted only to comments within their own specialties, and leave the thinking to the “experts”, is a very dangerous one. If that statement is accepted, the discussion might end right here, since it isn’t clear that any of us ‘understand enough’.

Discussion still continues though, because there is more to words than authority – there is reason.”

Morris Chang’s Pessimism

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Good Evening,

I believe many of you were at tonight’s panel. I was particularly struck by Morris Chang’s comments about the inevitable stalling of China’s economy in the same manner as Taiwan, due to Cultural reasons. I agree with him. I have thought about that question and come to the same conclusion in the past.

It is my hope that we can raise some kind of coherent, rigorous conversation about cultural weaknesses amongst the Taiwanese at MIT. As Wei-Chuan has said, as of right now the organization seems to know only eat-eat-drink-drink, and does little else. There is no conversation and no common consciousness. I would like you to consider the desirability and possibility of change in this aspect.

I do not think that we are bad at having opinions. What’s weak is the ability to develop those opinions. There is an excess of the tolerance for relativism, and on important issues disagreeing people seem to be unable to speak to each other. In the absence of meaningful disagreement, agreements are shallow and only joined by coincidence of name, as opposed to some deep generating principle.

There needs to be conversation about more fruitful ways in which to disagree. We need to make the strength and vigor which comes of public conversation available to us. This is something a technical education does not offer by itself – we’ll have to work for this one. We must be aware of the dangers of philosophical bankruptcy, how we are wasting many opportunities by neglecting self-examination.