Beat your brain's stupid hyperbolic discounting

Dispassionately, we know that cheating on our diets or procrastinating on our stupid deadlines isn't worth it, but our stupid brains treat most future consequences as if they're worth nothing, while treating any present-moment benefits as though they were precious beyond riches — so how do you get the "hyperbolic discounting" part of your brain to shut up and listen to reason?

Forecasting versus the stubbornly arbitrary world

In a fascinating long, thinky piece, economist Tim Harford looks at the history of business and political forecasting, trying to understand why both Keynes and his rival Irving Fisher both failed to forecast the Great Depression and were wiped out (and why Keynes managed to bounce back and die a millionaire, while Fisher died in poverty).

Happynomics versus econobollocks


Tim Harford investigates the field of "happynomics" through which economists attempt to devise policies that make people happier, and does an excellent job of sorting the evidence-based approaches from the trendy rubbish that's part ideology and part wishful thinking. Bottom line: beware the "focusing illusion"; count your blessings to reverse your habituation to the good things in life; set things up so that doing the things you want is easier than doing the things that make you unhappy, and, finally, understand that you probably can't be happy all the time. — Read the rest

Big Data has big problems


Writing in the Financial Times, Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, Adapt, etc) offers a nuanced, but ultimately damning critique of Big Data and its promises. Harford's point is that Big Data's premise is that sampling bias can be overcome by simply sampling everything, but the actual data-sets that make up Big Data are anything but comprehensive, and are even more prone to the statistical errors that haunt regular analytic science. — Read the rest

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, now in the USA

Back in September, I reviewed Tim Harford's new book The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, a great popular economics book on the perils and promise of the modern world. The book's just been published in a US edition, so I thought I'd revisit that review:

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back is a great macroeconomic companion to his 2005 debut, The Undercover Economist, an excellent and accessible book on microeconomics.

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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy

Tim Harford's latest book, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, is a great macroeconomic companion to his 2005 debut, The Undercover Economist (UK edition), an excellent and accessible book on microeconomics. Structured as a dialog between an economist (Harford) and a notional punter who has been put in charge of getting an imaginary economy going after a deep, long recession (ahem), Strikes Back is full of Harford's witty, clear and memorable explanations of complex and vital subjects. — Read the rest

Maps of corporate tax-avoidance hairballs


OpenCorporates has a data-visualization tool for peering into the corporate tax-evasion structures of big corporations — subsidiaries nested like Russian dolls made from Klein bottles:

In Hong Kong, there's a company called Goldman Sachs Structured Products (Asia) Limited. It's controlled by another company called Goldman Sachs (Asia) Finance, registered in Mauritius.

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Lunch with the Financial Times

The Financial Times has regular feature called Lunch with the FT in which a columnist takes someone out for lunch and a long chat, and then reports on both the lunch and the talk. I sat down recently with Tim Harford for very nice steaks and cheap wine, and Tim's just written it up:

Doctorow is clearly fascinated by economic issues, and points out that most science fiction and fantasy economies make no logical sense.

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Stag Hunts: fascinating and useful game theory model for collective action problems


Yesterday, I wrote about some Johns Hopkins students who overcame a game theory problem and got an A for the whole class. I called it a non-iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, but as Tim Harford points out, it's more of a Stag Hunt, a game theory category that I hadn't been aware of, and which has fascinating implications for lots of domains, including Internet peering:

In the stag hunt, two hunters must each decide whether to hunt the stag together or hunt rabbits alone.

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High velocity trading rendered visceral

The latest installment of Tim Harford's BBC/Open University podcast (RSS) More of Less has a fantastic and chilling look at the world of high-frequency automated stock trading, where warring algorithms execute millions of trades in an eyeblink. The story's jumping-off point is Knight Capital, whose faulty algorithm hemorrhaged $10,000,000 per minute, ultimately costing the company nearly half a billion dollars. — Read the rest

Boing Boing's top posts of 2011

Ill. Rob Beschizza

2011 was one weird year.

My essential Mac applications

Mark's picks of the very best apps currently available for OS X (with many available on other platforms), in five parts: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. — Read the rest