26 September 2013

"Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Taleb takes us on a journey through life (with a money market focus) and points out a variety of situations and events that we attribute, incorrectly, to skill. Instead, much of what we chaulk to patterns is actually random noise with no real pattern.

12 September 2013

On Classics

There are three kinds of classic: Classic by Necessity, Classic by Nature and Classic by Force.

The first, Classic by Necessity, is only a classic because of circumstances. These are easy to spot in the clarity of retrospect but are often cleverly hidden or disguised by current circumstances. Such Classics are often passed down as a Classic by Nature sometimes because they are overlooked but sometimes out of shame for the poor circumstances that made it a "classic" to begin with.

There is story I am fond of that illustrates Classic by Necessity:
One day a new wife was preparing a roast. She chopped off the ends before putting in the pot to cook. Her husband asked why she chopped off the ends to which she responded, "that is how you cook a roast." The husband disagreed and pointed out that leaving the ends on adds meat the roast, locks in the juices and improves the flavor of the roast. The wife responded again, that a proper roast has the ends chopped off. The husband again disagreed to which the wife responded by inquiring of her mother. Over the phone her mom said, "No dear, you should leave the ends on."

"Why did you always chop off the ends then?"

"Dear, I chopped off the ends to make the roast fit in our pan. We were too poor to buy a bigger pan."

Again, many Classic by Necessity are passed down because no proper explanation was provided. It is hard to explain, "Honey, we are too poor to do this right so this half-baked version will do for now but someday, when you are rich, you should do better." Bland gravy over biscuits, flavorless dumplings in a flavorless broth, even the otherwise Classic black suit that was bought too large and baggy is only a classic because of necessity.

Classic by Nature, however, is a classic because by its very nature it is a classic. By "nature", I mean that they stimulate the individual's senses in a unique and distinguishable way that allow for a continued pleasurable experience with each exposure.

Often these forms of Classic are noted for their clean, simple and even basic appearances. In fact, it is usually because of the lack the exotic intricacies, the doodads, bells and whistles that one can enjoy the base experience without distraction that enables Classic by Nature to become and remain a true Classic.

For architecture it is clean, simple lines with a tasteful blend of materials. For dresses and suits, it is a simple, flat color (usually black) with trim lines that accent the wearer's body. For food, it is a collection of items that share a common, basic taste with carefully chosen compliments that allow the consumer to identify and appreciate the central theme. For art, it is simply shaped and colored piece that allows the viewer to appreciate the initial basic perspective of the piece while also allowing for deeper introspection and appreciation of technique. For music, is the repetition of a beautifully simple theme that wanders and eludes but always comes back like a true friend.

Timelessness is another component of a Classic by Nature. This Classic is hard or impossible to determine a place and time based solely on the work. Indeed, Classic by Nature was a classic since the moment it was conceived (and would have been sooner if it had been dreamt up sooner), continues to be a classic today and will always be a classic. This timelessness can be difficult to recognize and even harder to manufacture but can be clearly identified upon reflection. Even as fads and fashions change with time, a Classic by Nature can always be brought back to be enjoyed again.

Beyond its enduring nature, Classic by Nature demonstrates a strong degree of class, or classiness, which is hard to argue against. This class encourages and begets more class. While wearing a classic black suit or dress, it is difficult to imagine eating anything but a classic meal of grilled chicken glazed in an apricot sauce with a fettuccine in a light Alfredo sauce and bread on the side. One would never consider eating such a meal while listening to some contemporary pop. Classic dinner in classic clothes requires classic music while drinking some classic beverage (maybe apricot nectar mixed with club soda), sitting at a table with classy people wearing classic clothes looking at classic art in a classic room in a classic building in a classic town under a classic sky. Too much classic? Maybe, but probably not. It is hard to have too much Classic by Nature.

A unique feature of Classic by Nature is that it has survived the stricture of peer review. That is, others have tried to tear down or find fault with the classic and, despite this criticism and whatever flaws were found, the stimulation provided by the classic is desirable enough to survive and still be sought after. These are the classics to be had.

On the opposite end is Classic by Force. These are things that are neither necessary, simple, basic or timeless. We may be told they are classic, but, by definition, if an individual needs to be told that something is a classic, it is not a classic. In these cases, instead of the thing being able to tantalize the senses it fails to do so and thus needs the contrivance that it is indeed a classic when it is not.

The feigned classics are frequently produced by the efforts of pop culture trying to leave a lasting impression on the world. Instead, they fail because while the Classic by Force lasts as long as the businessman is peddling, it is forgotten as so as he stops and it falls, like all garbage eventually does, to the side of the road.

Resisting the calls of the peddler can be difficult as they are specifically tuned to bypass the normal checks of the peer review process of class and skip the normal refinement of experience to become a raw expression played out upon the individual. Instead of allowing the individual to soak in and appreciate the experience, the peddler practically force-feeds the experience to the individual while simultaneously telling the individual what they are experiencing and how they should feel about it.

Classic by Force is a dangerous process because it is so strongly influenced, or even forced upon us, by peer pressure. One usually accepts these Classics, sometimes converting all of one's resources to this timely, complicated fad only to eventually realize how big of a mistake said investment was.

06 September 2013

"The Ultimate Mouthful: Lunge Feeding in Rorqual Whales" by Jeremy A. Goldbogen

We finally understand (mostly at least) how the biggest animals on the planet eat. This article describes the fascinating process that rorqual whales (e.g. blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales) go through to get a little food into their bellies.

It is especially interesting to me that we are barely (in the past decade) getting enough information to piece this process together.

http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/issue.aspx?id=8779&y=0&no=&content=true&page=2&css=print