Bad iPad Screen Size Scholarship has a lengthy article which appears to look at iPads in great detail. It presents itself as a rigorous comparison which a large amount of work was put into. It gives the impression that they dealt with all the details, carefully, so you don't have to. And it presents factual information which you are intended to believe is true.

An example statement they make is,
we examine in-depth the LCD displays on the Apple iPad mini 4, the iPad Air 2, and iPad Pro based on objective Lab measurement data and criteria.
Lab measurements! They sure put a lot of work into getting everything right. Didn't they?

But people suck at dealing with details. They may well have tried hard, but they have presented false information as if it were a fact. Here's the relevant part of their fact chart:

What caught my attention was the claim that iPad Air 2 is 7.8 inches tall while iPad Pro is 7.7 inches wide. I remembered Apple saying the Air's height and Pro's width matched during a presentation about new multitasking features. (As I remember it, Apple basically said you can fit a whole iPad Air on the pro screen and then have an area left over to the side for a second app.)

So I thought, huh, Apple fudged it. I thought they'd present an exact match here, but actually it's just pretty close.

But then I noticed the number of pixels does exactly match. The Air is 2048 pixels tall. The pro is 2048 pixels wide.

And the Pixels Per Inch exactly matches too at 264.

But if you have the same number of pixels, and the same number of pixels per inch, then the number of inches should also match. The chart contradicts itself.

So how many inches is it? Assuming the pixels and pixels per inch are correct then it's: 2048/264.0 = 7.757575 repeating.

So the actual value is between the 7.7 and 7.8 inches given, and a little closer to 7.8. Both numbers should have been rounded up to 7.8 inches since that's closer.

I wouldn't mind so much if both numbers were rounded the same direction, either way. But getting the same number in two adjacent boxes on your chart, and then rounding one up and the other down, is really not OK. This is a factual error caused by a methodology error. Whatever one's policy for rounding numbers, the same policy should be used for the entire article.

I emailed the article author and will update this post if it's fixed. The article did invite comment. As usual, I understand that mistakes can happen. We'll see if he's willing to fix it. Willingness to fix mistakes, or not, is even more important than making mistakes, or not, in the first place.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Game Design and Resource Depletion

Justin Mallone:
    U can get a lot of gaming done on an iPad mini 2 from Walmart
    Very cheap gaming system
Elliot Temple:
    it even runs TOKI TORI
Justin Mallone:
    Is portable
    Dude it runs baldurs gate heh
Elliot Temple:
    it runs toki tori with great UI
Justin Mallone:
Elliot Temple:
    it runs baldur's gate with inferior UI
Justin Mallone:
    I should play BG or BG2 on my new iMac sometime
    I also have new shadow run game
Elliot Temple:
    hard to argue with that
Justin Mallone:
Elliot Temple:
    i checked their new bg 1.5 game the other day
    release date unannounced
    says it's like bigger than sword coast + throne of bhaal expansions i think
    > 25 hrs
    not full game size
Justin Mallone:
Elliot Temple:
    i haven't even touched IWD EE yet
    i played mb half of iwd when it was new tho
    my bg2 game is still like 70% thru
    haven't played lately
    still interested in using a difficulty and AI mod pack on bg1
    or mb bg2
Justin Mallone:
    And then solo bard?
Elliot Temple:
    or kinda curious about rekking bg2 with solo sorcerer (with mass save/load)
    bard? eww
Justin Mallone:
    Challenge bro!!!!
Elliot Temple:
    challenge is more fun with the best mage spells
Justin Mallone:
Elliot Temple:
    half the point is to abuse time stop and simulacrum!!
Justin Mallone:
Elliot Temple:
    another way to make the games way more fun is to limit resting heavily.
    not just like "only rest in town"
    but actually map out areas ur gonna do in one go
    like this whole dungeon
    or clear these 5 wilderness zones
    and try to do that. without save/load
    one result is u will actually care about bringing 500 potions
    and it makes u manage resources more
    one of the main problems with the game is basically most fights aren't threatening to u to DIE
    they only threaten resources. the tension is: do u use up 3 spells or 4? lose 5 hp or 20hp?
    these differences only matter if ur trying to do a large amount of gameplay on fixed resources
    if u restore resources often, then the easy fights are boring
    btw this is a really common game design issue affecting many games
    lots of games have all/nothing fight outcomes
    u die or u win
    lots of games now just give u instant full hp/mana after every fight or something resaonably close to that
    like in WoW u eat/drink after and ur full shortly
Justin Mallone:
Elliot Temple:
    in diablo ur pretty much full after every fight
    dragon age gives u out of combat hp/mana regen that's large
    so the result with free resources coming back after combat
    is all fights that don't threaten to kill u r boring
    u don't care if it uses 25% or 75% of ur resources
    another result is u rarely ever use resources that don't regen like potions. cuz u don't need to, and they aren't free
    this makes for bad gameplay. diablo has to have things that can kill u in like 2 seconds or less, or u can't really be in danger
    in WoW ur healer can get u from 1% hp to full in like 2 seconds
Justin Mallone:
    It'd be interesting if getting below certain HP like maimed u, so permanent stat hit. And healing resources were scarce. So then there's issue of being more aggressive on healing and using up more scarce resources, vs trying to conserve but risking getting maimed more
Elliot Temple:
    not to mention u can drink a potion, have an instant cast shield put on you by a healer (to protect u during heal casting time), have instant heal for a third of ur hp (not sure), etc
    in general i think u need to really limit resource regen in games, so that dying can happen over a period of, say, 30 seconds, slowly
    as ur resources deplete gradually and u make multiple choices over time
    this requires preventing really ez retreat
    most games only do that on boss fights (lock u in arena)
    in TKoK (rpg i worked on. i worked on design, testing, balance, items, bugfixing. and played a ton), healers can full heal u pretty instantly. but their heals go on cooldown. (in WoW most heals don't go on cooldown).
    a fair amount of deaths are full to dead very fast, esp if u do something dumb, but
    a lot of deaths are b/c of chaos and lots of ppl getting hurt and healer being busy
    and ppl getting out of range of healer, spread out, running around everywhere
    and it gets messy and so some ppl stop getting immediate heals
    and also the healer has to keep a good chunk of his heals going to the tank usually
    when he gets stressed, and distracted healing dps, sometimes tanks fall
    so it allows for things to fall apart over 15s sometimes
    cleric can half dps for about half their life instantly, with 2s cd, and has a bigger heal on 5s cd
    so if ppl are getting hit frequently and tank needs a good amount of the heals, the leftover to keep everyone at full gets limited
    tkok has full resource regen btwn fights
    just makes the fights hard
    has a lot of stuff to prevent retreat including on trash enemies
    so that they aren't boring and can threaten u
    there's other stuff to worry about too
    like some boss fights have time limits, so u have to keep dpsing
    or like they can have a specific part where a bunch of enemies spawn
    and u need a lot of aoe dps fast or u'll die
    and u have to manage aggro (which enemies attack who). basically u want tank to aggro everything
    if certain trash enemies attack a non-tank
    they will kill him in a few seconds
    it's really harsh later in the game
    so there's different ways to die or get hit, e.g. standing in enemy aoe spell zones, or not managing aggro properly, or there's some basically unavoidable dmg that can hit non-tank, but is low enough not to kill, but needs prompt healing to be safe
    managing aggro well often requires good positioning. if dps all just stands wherever and shoots, and enemies can walk up from different sides, can be real hard for tank
    if they can kinda get in back in a corner, then it's much easier to keep enemies off them
    tkok2 had default AI aggro instead of a system based on who damaged something (with tanks having a large bonus multiplier, so their hits do the most aggro even tho dmg is low)
    and that was cool too
    u'd use chokepoints to force enemies onto the tank
    there was a boss fight where u'd go squish ur dps behind some rocks and there's openings on both ends, but other than the 2 ppl at openings u can keep them safe (mostly. there's ranged enemies)
    lots of times there were many different spells to worry about dodging at once
    like a boss had a splash dmg melee attack in front of him (short range cone) and rotated (so like melee dps who walk up and hit him have to watch out for rotations), and had a longer range shockwave that would 1shot most ppl and he'd do that in random directions sometimes, and had a starfall (it'd just pick random spots in boss zone and send down a thing that does dmg with a short warning graphic. it would do several of these per second, so there's usually some going off near u)
    and then sometimes he'd do his big spell where it turns the battlefield dark and makes pillars of light
    and u have to get into the pillars. ONE PLAYER PER PILLAR and there's no extras
    and u have a few seconds to do this or u die
    if u share a pillar u both die
    so ppl have to be good at coordinating – don't run to same pillar.
    and have to be spread out b4 it starts
    and meanwhile the range on heals is like 40% of the size of the boss fight area
    so ppl going everywhere are often away from teh healer
    and then meanwhile there's 3 minibosses who the tank aggros and runs around the fight in a circle the entire time
    (there's a bonus goal for better loot of not killing them)
    and they each have spells, and u have to also worry about not hitting them with splash dmg cuz they dont' have that much hp, and dont' ehal
    the tank in theory doesn't have to run circles, but if he stands still he'll take tons of dmg from them and it'll eat up most of the healer's healing
    tanks would actually swap on faster movement speed gear for this fight, at the cost of armor/hp, in order to outrun them better. taking fewer hits that way worked better than being more tanky
    it's common for fights to have several things that are quite hard to dodge but do maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of ur hp, and then some things that are somewhat easier to dodge and less common but will 1shot most ppl.
    and to have phase changes. different parts of the fight. either a progression, or a cycle.
    and being prepared for the changes, not taken by surprise, really helps with dodging
    another thing that adds complexity and skill is defensive cooldowns
    like ways to reduce incoming dmg temporarily, but which u can only use infrequently
    like 25% dmg reduction for 5s, with 90s cooldown
    was a potion
    this is another way to allow things to fall apart over time
    as ppl get a lot of resources like that on cooldown
    WoW has that too. has lots of longer cooldown spells and items that are great. some are defensive.
    another thing we had that WoW doesn't do much (or at all? not sure) is shared cooldowns
    hp and mana potions use the same cooldown
    and mana potions are a big deal
    commonly used
    so if u ever use hp pot for emergency, ur losing out on some mana
    and if u drink mana constantly, ur hp pot isn't even available to use most of the time
    the 25% dmg reduction pot shared cd with a dmg boost pot and a speed boost pot
    and this led to interesting gear choices
    for example some fights have movement speed requirements to deal with certain things
    and u can either wear enough permanent move speed (at cost of dps, hp, mana, etc)
    OR you can be too slow but use ur consumables to cover up that weakness
    for mana vs hp pots, u can wear extra mana regen gear (giving up a bit of dps or hp. or move speed, or some other things)
    so that u'll have hp pots available more
    warriors and healers did this a lot
    whereas dps would rely on mana potions more, and not have heal pot safety much
    another thing was lots of gear had negative stats
    so instead of like having lots of extra in various categories
    as is common in most games
    u could actually manage the amount of each resource u need
    like if ur willing to play with small mana pool, u can have more hp
    rather than just having plenty of mana and no choices about it
    u could give up whatever mana, hp, speed, armor, etc, u thot was extra to get more dps or other resource
    it was common for ppl to play with significant amounts of negative hp regeneration
    so that's another thing that woudl stress healers lol
    b/c ppl wanted to be losing 2.5% of their max hp per second
    in order to do more dps
    ppl would adjust gear for different bosses tho and for trash
    like u can't have that kinda hp degen on some fights
    too suicidal
    but u can on others
    degen + higher max hp is actually safer for some things
    if u can get ur hp high enuf, u can hit breakpoitns
    like turn some 1shots into 2shots
    or turn some 2shots into 3shots
    or 3shots into 4shots
    (u might think etc. but after those 3 cases, who cares. after that it's just more hp is better, not really breakpoints tho)
    the first 2 breakpoitns are the main one
    being able to live thru something at full hp. or being able to get hit by 2 of something from full instead of only 1
    being able to live thru 3 of something btwn heals also matters sometimes. beyond that, ur not counting exact hits in that way
    note that accepting hp degeneration for more dps is not necessarily greedy or risky play
    if u win a boss fight in 4min instead of 5min, u just arguably reduced ur chance of fucking up and dying by 20%
    if u made the fight 5% more difficult due to the degeneration, than maybe ur coming out safer – that is, will succeed in 80 out of 100 attempts with degen, and 75 out of 100 with the longer fight.
    more dps also adds safety in situations like: boss spawns extra minions temporarily. the faster u kill them, the safer.
    and it adds safety on bosses with time limits. (which are usually soft – meaning it slowly, gradually gets harder over time)
    the tradeoffs are fun. ppl decide things like: exactly how much movement speed do i need here? and try to aim for not too much or too little.
    in most games either u can't control that, or u basically just maximize it.
    u never go like "ok well i think i can play with 20% less than default move speed and get away with it. i'll take some more hp instead."
    on my healer i'd intentinoally run extra hp and move speed and mana regen so i could go save ppl who fucked up
    could run thru danger zone fast and heal them while taking hits myself
    and have hp pot ready, cuz not using mana pots
    i think most dps cut too many corners for dmg
    and overall wasn't worth it. ppl too greedy
    the cost of any deaths is super high
    however i'm partly biased b/c i'm good at playing long fights without fucking up
    good at playing very consistently and correctly without having a concentration lapse
    whereas most ppl were worse at that, so benefitted more from being greedy to try to make fights shorter
    also extra defense matters more if u know the game better and play in a more organized way
    the more u control the situations, the more u can know what the threats are and what defensive will actually work to address it
    whereas if ur play is more chaotic, then more defense MIGHT help, but lots of times it won't save u anyway
    the more everything is carefully managed, the more u can keep things in situations where specific extra defenses actually make the difference
    the issue with long fights (e.g. 20min) and ppl messing up after a while isn't just stuff like concentration
    it's also things like: what is their strategy for dealing with X threat or Y spell?
    and ppl will have strategies that have small risks. work like 97% of the time when done right.
    and so in longer fights, the chance of something going wrong when u keep rolling those dice gets reasonable sized
    whereas i'd more often work out strategies to deal with stuff that are more than 99% safe if u don't make a mistake
    so in a longer fight, if i don't make a mistake, the odds of bad luck remain quite low
Justin Mallone:
    >another thing we had that WoW doesn't do much (or at all? not sure) is shared cooldowns
Elliot Temple:
    i think it has some
    medium hp pot and greater hp pot
    would share cd
    stuff like that
    but idk about any serious choices like tkok has
    where it's like speed pot vs dmg reduction pot vs dmg boost pot on shared cd
Justin Mallone:
    Witcher has something like this kinda. Pre-battle potion prep big part of Witcher universe lore. anyways u can use several different pots but they add to ur toxicity level. Start getting various penalties if u use too many
Elliot Temple:
    that's just an overall resource limit
    that's the same as D&D spells
    where memorizing spells b4 a battle is big part of game
    but ur blocked from having too many
    witcher toxicity is soft limit (increasing penalties as u go higher). D&D spell memorization is hard cap. but basically same thing.
Justin Mallone:
    It's not a literal hard number of seconds cool down I guess. More like a soft cool down. ur toxicity goes down over time tho so similar effect u kno
Elliot Temple:
    (i assume @ toxicity. not actually familiar)
    a global limit can be interesting but
    pretty different than having small groups of things to choose btwn
Justin Mallone:
    Oh heh u guessed what i wrote

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

STD Scholarship

Scholarship for STD risks and test accuracy is extremely bad. The information on this topic is awful.

One paper on HSV IgG (herpes, many cases of which are called "cold sores") testing stood out to me because it had a good section:
Summary of Test
1. Prepare 1:51 dilutions of Calibrator(s), Controls and samples in the test set Diluent. Mix well.
2. Place 100 μl of the dilutions in the Coated Wells; reserve one well for the reagent blank.
3. Incubate at room temperature for 30 ± 5 minutes.
4. Drain wells thoroughly. Wash wells 4 times with Wash Solution and drain.
5. Place 2 drops (or 100 μl) of Conjugate in wells.
6. Incubate at room temperature for 30 ± 5 minutes.
7. Drain wells thoroughly. Wash wells 4 times with Wash Solution and drain.
8. Place 2 drops (or 100 μl) of Substrate in wells.
9. Incubate at room temperature for 30 ± 5 minutes.
10. Stop the enzyme reaction with 2 drops (or 100 μl) of Stop Reagent.
11. Read absorbance at 405 nm against reagent blank.
It's great to specify details like washing 4 times and the 5 minute error margins on incubation times.

This is much better than most "scientific" papers I've seen which do not give repeatable procedures for doing the experiment with this sort of detail. I think maybe it's because herpes testing is actually repeated a lot (to test many different people), whereas most scientific experiments are only done once or a few times.

No excuses though. All science should meet this sort of standard or higher. (Honestly it's really not that hard or amazing. This shouldn't be unusual.)

But later the paper says something awful:
A negative serological test does not exclude the possibility of past infection. Following primary HSV infection, antibody may fall to undetectable levels and then be boosted by later clinical infection with the same, or heterologous virus type. Such an occurrence may lead to incorrect interpretations of seroconversion and primary infection, or negative antibody status. [my emphasis]
Heterologous is a prestigious word meaning, basically, it's a different strain of the virus.

So they are saying something may later be boosted by infection with the same virus or a different virus. Why would you say it could be either the same or different? And why present that like it's a fancy, complex point requiring sophisticated and hard-to-read language? They are using fancy words like "heterologous" but I think they didn't really think through what they are actually trying to say. The content is confused and confusing.

And the comma after "the same" is incorrect grammar. They're trying to write in a fancy way but are getting the basics wrong. This is written to impress and intimidate people, not to communicate.

The authors are more interested in sounding like smart medical researches than actually communicating effectively.

This reminds me of a Richard Feynman story:
There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read – something he had written ahead of time. I started to read the damn thing, and my eyes were coming out: I couldn’t make head nor tail of it! I figured it was because I hadn’t read any of the books on that list. I have this uneasy feeling of “I’m not adequate,” until finally I said to myself, “I’m gonna stop, and read one sentence slowly, so I can figure out what the hell it means.”

So I stopped – at random – and read the next sentence very carefully. I can’t remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: “The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels.” I went back and forth over it, and translated. You know what it means? “People read.”
Another interesting part of the paper was the data that around 70% of adults have herpes (and another roughly 15% test ambiguous, and 15% negative). This is in line with other sources I've seen. The result is that most STD testing skips herpes (unless there's a visible lesion), even though it's a common STD! Many doctors discourage blood tests for herpes. Some clinics or government run healthcare services don't do herpes blood testing at all, or refuse it to most people. People sort of act like herpes is too common to worry about, so just don't make any effort to avoid infection. No doubt this attitude contributes to so many people having herpes. (You may want to consider getting a herpes test. Herpes is contagious some of the time even if you have no visible sores.)

On a related note, many people who "get tested" for STDs don't even pay attention to which STDs they've been tested for. Lots of people are promiscuous without giving much thought to what STDs exist, what tests exist, how good the tests are, how long things take to show up on the tests with what accuracy, etc. (People are also extremely reckless about believing their partners' claims about safety. People lie to their spouses about their sexual activities, so believing someone you're hooking up with – who has to say how safe s/he is to get laid – is pretty foolish.)

Many people also think if they use a condom that is "safe sex" and they don't really have to worry about anything. This is stupid and dangerous. Using condoms doesn't make you immune or take away the value of thinking about what you're doing, researching STDs, etc. (I think one of the reasons STD information is so bad is that no one cares. People don't try to research this stuff in any kind of reasonable way. At most they just find some doctor saying don't worry about something, or assume percentages over 90 are high, and go back to their social life. For example, lots of people seem to think 97% is a high and safe accuracy for an HIV test. I'm not even joking. For fucking HIV, 97% is not something to treat as plenty safe!)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daring Fireball Misquotes Yankees

Apple blog Daring Fireball posted bad scholarship today:

“It’s a typical gutless act by a cable carrier seeking to promote its own self-interest,” Levine told the NY Daily News. “This amounts to nothing more than a money grab. Comcast, who said it had an agreement in principle with YES, is saving millions of dollars now by not airing YES in the offseason.”
Calling one of Comcast's acts gutless is not calling Comcast gutless.

This kind of sloppiness with the facts is inexcusable. I know it's not the most serious, scholarly blog in the first place, but that's no excuse for misquoting people. And it's a news site which gets access to some Apple press conference invites and review units of new products, so it should at least not post things which are blatantly, factually false.

The false Daring Fireball title is a truncated version of the linked article's title which has the same mistake. So DSL Reports also messed up too, but that's no excuse.

I contacted Daring Fireball about the error and will update this post if it's fixed or there's a response.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Ann Coulter Mini Biography Article

I enjoyed this mini biography article about Ann Coulter. Read it! I even updated my Fear of Future Employers post with a quote from it.

There was one really bad part that stood out to me. Coulter's father used ~$200,000 as a bludgeon to sabotage her writing career. Sighhhhhhhhh :((((((
After Cornell, Coulter wanted to postpone law school to try to become a conservative writer, but knowing the reality of making a living being as controversial as a lion killer, her father said, "That's fine, but I'm not paying for it if you put it off." So off she went to law school.
Parents are so controlling and awful.

After this, Coulter could easily have never become a writer. She could have easily gotten stuck in law jobs she didn't like. Her wonderful career was put in jeopardy, by her own parent, to protect her employability in a profession she didn't really want to be in.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Parable of the Vases

Ann Coulter tweeted a bunch of praise for A Review of Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own today. She told people to buy the book. And she indicated her agreement with the "parable of the vases" .

I disagree with the parable. Here it is:
The parable begins with a simplifying assumption. This is that it takes exactly two workers to make a vase: one to blow it from molten glass and another to pack it for delivery. Now suppose that two workers, A1 and A2, are highly skilled—if they are assigned to either task they are guaranteed not to break the vase. Suppose two other workers, B1 and B2, are less skilled—specifically, for either task each has a 50% probability of breaking the vase.

Now suppose you are worker A1. If you team up with A2, you produce a vase every attempt. However, if you team up with B1 or B2, then only 50% of your attempts will produce a vase. Thus, your productivity is higher when you team up with A2 than with one of the B workers. Something similar happens with the B workers. They are more productive when they are paired with an A worker than with a fellow B worker.

So far, everything I’ve said is probably pretty intuitive. But here’s what’s not so intuitive. Suppose you’re the manager of the vase company and you want to produce as many vases as possible. Are you better off by (i) pairing A1 with A2 and B1 with B2, or (ii) pairing A1 with one of the B workers and A2 with the other B worker?

If you do the math, it’s clear that the first strategy works best. Here, the team with two A workers produces a vase with 100% probability, and the team with the two B workers produces a vase with 25% probability. Thus, in expectation, the company produces 1.25 vases per time period. With the second strategy, both teams produce a vase with 50% probability. Thus, in expectation, the company produces only one vase per time period.

The example illustrates how workers’ productivity is often interdependent—specifically, how your own productivity increases when your co-workers are skilled.
This is a dirty math trick (using the prestige and authority of math to trick people about a non-math issue) and the author doesn't explain what's going on. The different results are due to different amounts of idle vase-packing labor. In one scenario, A2 sits around doing nothing half the time (a loss of .5). In the other, B2 sits around doing nothing half the time (a loss of .25). A2 sitting idle is a bigger loss. That's all it is. Both potential pairings have a total of 1.5 value. They come out to 1 or 1.25 simply based on whether .25 or .5 value is sitting idle.

This can easily be fixed by hiring more appropriate labor ratios. If you have vase packers sitting idle, hire more vase blowers. You basically want two B workers doing vase blowing for each vase packer, not 1-to-1. They will on average produce one vase per vase-blowing cycle for the packer to work on. Then everything works out OK and, basically, you get the expected results: that 50% efficient workers are worth half as much as 100% efficient workers. (That's ignoring cost of materials, transaction costs to hire more people, needing a bigger factory to fit more workers, etc. When you factor all that stuff in, then yes one 100% efficient worker is better than 2 50% efficient workers. That's not what this parable is about, though).

(This is all on the assumption that people are simply assigned one job and stick to it, and that A1 and B1 do the vase blowing and A2 and B2 do the vase packing. If the packers would simply do some extra blowing when there's nothing to pack, that would also solve the problem and ruin the parable in the same way that hiring more blowers than packers would ruin the intended result.)

It's not efficient workers working with inefficient workers that's wasteful in general. It's people sitting around doing nothing that's wasteful. The parable hides people having time spent idle which is where the entire mathematical difference is coming from.

The book reviewer is very impressed with his bad parable:
To illustrate the latter effect, Jones’s constructs an example, which I call “the parable of the vases.” In a moment I’ll explain the details of the example, but first let me briefly discuss its importance. The example has significantly affected my thinking, and it is one of the highlights of the book. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the parable ranks as one of the all-time great examples in economics. Although it is not quite as insightful and important as Ronald Coase’s crops-near-the-train-track example (which illustrates the efficiency of property rights), I believe it is approximately as insightful and important as: (i) Adam Smith’s pin-factory example (which illustrates the benefits of division of labor) and (ii) Friedrich Hayek’s example of an entrepreneur knowing about an unused ship (which illustrates the value of particular, versus general, knowledge).
This kind of bragging about something that's wrong and misleading is not very notable. What was notable to me was that Ann Coulter was fooled and thought it was a good point.
The example generates an even more remarkable implication. It says that, if you are a manager of a company (or the central planner of an entire economy), then your optimal strategy is to clump your best workers together on the same project rather than spreading them out amongst your less-able workers.
I actually do agree with something like this conclusion, although I don't consider it remarkable at all. But the parable of the vases is a bad argument. A good argument covering part of this issue is The Mythical Man-Month.

I'd add that this point about mixing workers applies to peers. Putting a better worker in a leadership and management role interacting with inferior workers does make sense.

So I propose that instead of bringing in lots of low skill workers here, we should encourage a few top quality Americans to emmigrate and be leaders that run the governments and major businesses of other countries.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

Schizophrenia is a Lie

The video The Last Interview of Thomas Szasz has an interesting story. I'll paraphrase:

For context, the interviewer was bringing up the issue that insane people don't make sense. You can't talk with them. They played a couple clips of some people saying nonsense. So how do you deal with that?

So Szasz says, at 19:15, that he had this same discussion 20 years ago. A reporter from The Newyorker called Szasz and brought it up. So Szasz made a trip to New York and met him for an experiment. They went to central park and found a homeless schizophrenic guy and tried talking with him.

The conversation was perfectly normal. There were some wine cartons nearby, and they talked about wine. The guy knew how to get his welfare check, he'd been in Bellview several times, he gave a long description of how to stay out of the mental hospital (the last thing he wants to be in). He said where he can get a shower sometimes and how he gets food.

But the reporter didn't publish the story. His axe to grind was to show how crazy these people are and how they need mental healthcare. So when the experiment didn't fit his agenda, he didn't publish.

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Leonard Peikoff Says He's Not a Philosopher

Leonard Peikoff is not a philosopher.

I transcribed his podcast, episode 22, starting 4min in:
And the fact is that I'm not an epistemologist, let alone a technical one. The older I get, I realize I'm not a philosopher, and never really was. My real interest in life is cultural analysis. How does philosophy influence, for instance, the rise of Hitler or kind of educational system we have or great plays ... that's always been the kind of thing I've done. The only exception is OPAR, which was pure philosophy, but that was simply paying off a debt. I had to do that to Ayn Rand in exchange for what she had, you know, taught me for 30 years. But other than that I never would wanna write or really lecture on philosophy. I don't see that there's anything wrong with that, but that is just not what I do.
So OPAR isn't Peikoff's kind of thing. Ayn Rand couldn't find an heir who actually wanted to be a philosopher. Ayn Rand couldn't find a better student to teach philosophy to than a non-philosopher.

It's not that Peikoff tried and failed. It's not that he values philosophy, like Objectivism, above all else, but isn't good enough at it. He doesn't even care about it like that.

How can a man like this be any kind of leader in a philosophy community?

How can any self-proclaimed non-philosopher consider themselves an Objectivist? Doesn't he know what Objectivism says philosophy's role in life is? Everyone should be a philosopher. Everyone needs philosophy. Everyone has a philosophy. The question is just how interested they are in thinking it through and getting their philosophy right.

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Alan's Paths Forward Summary

The following is a guest post by Alan Forrester. It summarizes the Paths Forward idea. These concepts are really important and people have a hard time with them, so summarizing is valuable. Here's another summary I wrote.

People say you should be willing to open minded. You should be willing to consider new ideas because they might be better than your current ideas. But people don’t give substantive advice on how to do this.

This is a difficult problem because you only have a limited amount of time in the day, and you may have stuff to do.

What you need is a path forward: a way to advance a discussion or disagreement (including discussions and disagreements in your own mind).

A bad path forward impedes progress by rejecting ideas without answering them, regardless of your reason for doing that. Examples include authority, social status, curation, moderation or gatekeepers.

A good path forward lets you get ideas from anyone. A good path forward always involves discussion because only rational discussion can solve problems.

This may sound like it’ll take a lot of time. But you need not write a fresh answer to every question. You can direct people to stuff that was written before the question was asked. And the answer could also have been written by somebody else. What matters is whether it answers the question, not who wrote it or when it was written.

If you refer somebody to a pre-written answer, you should give specific references where possible, e.g. - a page or chapter of a book instead of a whole book. You should also be willing to fix flaws in those answers.

Good answers will be public so lots of people can read them. They should also be written since written material is easier to quote, edit and analyse in detail.

You should also take responsibility for your paths forward. If you recommend stuff written by somebody else, you should be willing to answer questions about it and address flaws.

Good paths forward make general claims. General claims solve more problems and are easier to criticise than more limited claims. So if they are right they are very useful, and if they are wrong it is easier to find the flaw.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Optimal Fallible Ideas Post Size and Style

Here are some thoughts on how to write well for the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group. I think people could benefit from using them at other forums, too.

i suggest most of you should try writing most of your posts with the following format:

1-2 sections. (a quote and a reply is one section)

80-400 words per section.

quote at most the same amount as you write, plus 200 words. (not counting attributions. the number of people quoted should usually be kept to 3 or fewer, but sometimes more is ok.) try to think about quoting like you were writing a blog post and consider what quotes you would actually copy into it.

try not to quote partial thoughts from other people. as a loose guideline, a thought is typically around one medium sized paragraph. generally avoid breaking up their text mid sentence or mid paragraph. or if they write several short paragraphs that go together, leave them together. let them say their thought. then reply to the thought overall.

if you want to make a small detail point, you can break in in the middle of their thought. try to keep the break in on the shorter side, and only one break in per thought they have.

some people will take a thought i write and then break it up into 4 pieces and write a bunch of little detail replies. the forest gets lost for the trees. what i was saying gets lost, and the replies don't have a big picture to them.

if you have a lot to say about an email, reply multiple times.

if your thoughts are separate, they don't need to be in the same email. if they are related, but exceed 2 sections of 800 total words, then it's hard to put them together. you're now trying to write something a bit longer, and make it fit together. generally i recommend you don't try that. think about how to separate or shorten your points.

if you want to write something too short, like a one sentence question, or i "yes i agree, go on", then consider what you can add to make it better. replies like that are often boring to everyone except the one person you're replying to.

you can add some extra thoughts on the topic. you can add an explanation of why you're asking a question or why you agree. you can add some additional questions. you can add some clarification of what you agree with or what your question means. you can add an argument you think is true, or one you're unclear about. you can add a statement about why this topic is important and you want to discuss it. you can add a statement about why the audience should care and join in.

don't give up. think about the topic more and make your post better. getting up to 80 words for your section shouldn't be that hard. if you get really stuck, just write that you couldn't think of anything else to say, and maybe a guess at why or how you got stuck. ask for advice how to think of stuff to say, or examples of what you could have said, or whatever you think would be helpful.

also, if you have at least one meaty section of general interest, then having one (or even several) really short sections is way better than if they were the whole post.

FYI this post is around 500 words. 400 words is pretty long. most of you should usually end a section by 250 words.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Donald Trump is a Protectionist

Today, presidential candidate Donald Trump published another policy paper: Reforming the U.S.-China Trade Relationship to Make America Great Again.

I already knew Trump was a protectionist from reading his book:
Fourth, it’s time to get tough on those who outsource jobs overseas and reward companies who stay loyal to America. If an American company outsources its work, they get hit with a 20 percent tax. For those companies who made the mistake of sending their businesses overseas but have seen the light and are ready to come home and bring jobs with them, they pay zero tax. Bottom line: hire American workers and you win. Send jobs overseas, and you may be fine, but you will pay a tax. Also, I want foreign countries to finally start forking over cash in order to have access to our markets. So here’s the deal: any foreign country shipping goods into the United States pays a 20 percent tax. If they want a piece of the American market, they’re going to pay for it. No more free admission into the biggest show in town—and that especially includes China. [emphasis added]
Trump has now both denied and reiterated his protectionism in today's policy paper:
America has always been a trading nation. Under the Trump administration trade will flourish. However, for free trade to bring prosperity to America, it must also be fair trade. Our goal is not protectionism but accountability. America fully opened its markets to China but China has not reciprocated. Its Great Wall of Protectionism uses unlawful tariff and non-tariff barriers to keep American companies out of China and to tilt the playing field in their favor. [emphasis added]
And what will Trump do because China hasn't reciprocated American free trade policies with their own? His clearly written policy is to impose protectionist duties:
On day one of the Trump administration the U.S. Treasury Department will designate China as a currency manipulator. This will begin a process that imposes appropriate countervailing duties on artificially cheap Chinese products
This is a bad idea, as was explained in 1845 by Claude Frédéric Bastiat. I find it interesting that would-be economic leaders, seeking to "make America great again", do not bother to read economics and find out why their plans will actually harm America, as a Frenchman already explained 170 years ago. This is old news – but Trump doesn't know it. Why not? Something's really going wrong here.

Bastiat's explanation is well done. It's clear, easy to read, makes sense, and covers the issue. What more do people want? He actually has a lot of material of this quality which the modern world is ignoring. Here is the specific essay, in full, which Trump's ignorant and destructive policy plans reminded me of. Look how exactly Trump is advocating the same mistake Bastiat addresses. (And Trump has no counter argument to Bastiat, no better ideas to offer. Just ignorance.)

Note that Bastiat has already explained why protective tariffs or duties are bad in previous essays. And Trump claims to know those are bad in general, which is why he denies being a protectionist. The reason Trump advocates protective duties against China is that China doesn't practice free trade itself. Trump claims that free trade is good, but it needs to be mutual. This issue is exactly what Bastiat addresses:

The Bastiat Collection, Part VI, chapter 10, Reciprocity:
We have just seen that whatever increases the expense of conveying commodities from one country to another— in other words, whatever renders transport more onerous—acts in the same way as a protective duty; or if you prefer to put it in another shape, that a protective duty acts in the same way as more onerous transport.

A tariff, then, may be regarded in the same light as a marsh, a rut, an obstruction, a steep declivity—in a word, it is an obstacle, the effect of which is to augment the difference between the price the producer of a commodity receives and the price the consumer pays for it. In the same way, it is undoubtedly true that marshes and quagmires are to be regarded in the same light as protective tariffs.

There are people (few in number, it is true, but there are such people) who begin to understand that obstacles are not less obstacles because they are artificial, and that our mercantile prospects have more to gain from liberty than from protection, and exactly for the same reason that makes a canal more favorable to traffic than a steep, roundabout, and inconvenient road.

But they maintain that this liberty must be reciprocal. If we remove the barriers we have erected against the admission of Spanish goods, for example, Spain must remove the barriers she has erected against the admission of ours. They are, therefore, the advocates of commercial treaties, on the basis of exact reciprocity, concession for concession; let us make the sacrifice of buying, say they, to obtain the advantage of selling.

People who reason in this way, I am sorry to say, are, whether they know it or not, protectionists in principle; only, they are a little more inconsistent than pure protectionists, as the latter are more inconsistent than absolute prohibitionists.

The following apologue will demonstrate this:


There were, no matter where, two towns called Stulta and Puera. They completed at great cost a highway from the one town to the other. When this was done, Stulta said to herself: “See how Puera inundates us with her products; we must see to it.” In consequence, they created and paid a body of obstructives, so called because their business was to place obstacles in the way of traffic coming from Puera. Soon afterwards Puera did the same.

At the end of some centuries, knowledge having in the interim made great progress, the common sense of Puera enabled her to see that such reciprocal obstacles could only be reciprocally hurtful. She therefore sent an envoy to Stulta, who, laying aside official phraseology, spoke to this effect: “We have made a highway, and now we throw obstacles in the way of using it. This is absurd. It would have been better to have left things as they were. We should not, in that case, have had to pay for making the road in the first place, nor afterwards have incurred the expense of maintaining obstructives. In the name of Puera, I come to propose to you, not to give up opposing each other all at once—that would be to act upon a principle, and we despise principles as much as you do—but to lessen somewhat the present obstacles, taking care to estimate equitably the respective sacrifices we make for this purpose.” So spoke the envoy. Stulta asked for time to consider the proposal, and proceeded to consult, in succession, her manufacturers and agriculturists. At length, after the lapse of some years, she declared that the negotiations were broken off.

On receiving this intimation, the inhabitants of Puera held a meeting. An old gentleman (they always suspected he had been secretly bought by Stulta) rose and said: The obstacles created by Stulta injure our sales, which is a misfortune. Those we have ourselves created injure our purchases, which is another misfortune. With reference to the first, we are powerless; but the second rests with ourselves. Let us, at least, get rid of one, since we cannot rid ourselves of both evils. Let us suppress our obstructives without requiring Stulta to do the same. Some day, no doubt, she will come to know her own interests better.

A second counselor, a practical, matter-of-fact man, guiltless of any acquaintance with principles, and brought up in the ways of his forefathers, replied: “Don’t listen to that Utopian dreamer, that theorist, that innovator, that economist, that Stultomaniac. We shall all be undone if the stoppages of the road are not equalized, weighed, and balanced between Stulta and Puera. There would be greater difficulty in going than in coming, in exporting than in importing. We should find ourselves in the same condition of inferiority relatively to Stulta as Havre, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lisbon, London, Hamburg, and New Orleans are with relation to the towns situated at the sources of the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, the Tagus, the Thames, the Elbe, and the Mississippi, for it is more difficult for a ship to ascend than to descend a river. (A Voice: Towns at the mouths of rivers prosper more than towns at their source.) This is impossible. (Same Voice: But it is so.) Well, if it be so, they have prospered contrary to rules.” Reasoning so conclusive convinced the assembly, and the orator followed up his victory by talking largely of national independence, national honor, national dignity, national labor, inundation of products, tributes, murderous competition. In short, he carried the vote in favor of the maintenance of obstacles; and if you are at all curious on the subject, I can point out to you countries where you will see with your own eyes Road-makers and Obstructives working together on the most friendly terms possible, under the orders of the same legislative assembly, and at the expense of the same taxpayers, the one set endeavoring to clear the road, and the other set doing their utmost to render it impassable. [emphasis added]
Trump is that second counselor. He still hasn't thought of an answer to the old gentleman. And who, exactly, is asking him to?

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Angry, Violent Racists

An Ivy League Lynch Mob:
Meanwhile, Yale's Divinity School is now home to Black Lives Matter movement agitator DeRay Mckesson who was awarded a sinecure to promote the violent racist movement.

“Looting for me isn’t violent, it’s an expression of anger,” the guest lecturer recently preached to students. “The act of looting is political. Another way to dissolve consent. Pressing you to no longer keep me out of this space, by destroying it.”
what a world! here's a teacher at major US university inciting criminal violence. and denying violence is violent on the basis that it also has the purpose of expressing anger.

he advocates destruction, which he claims will help get invites into the kinds of spaces that are attacked.

and he's not getting fired for this stuff. he got hired for it!

this is very dangerous. people are getting hurt. more will be hurt. and not very many are doing a good job of standing up against it.

two standout organizations defending civilization are Front Page Magazine and Breitbart News.

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