Taleb’s “Black Swan”

January 7, 2009

I’ve just finished reading Taleb’s Black Swan. It’s very easy and engaging as it’s written in a personal style and directed towards a general audience.

The ideas in it are quite interesting – for me, the most interesting idea was about the limits to knowledge. E.g. how can one use induction to go from the particular to the general in non-narrowly-defined circumstances (e.g. not in mathematics)? There is brief discussion about this in the context of patterns of numbers or dots on a page, with the old exercise of not assuming a linear trend is the method behind the observed data.

This reminds me of multiple choice “IQ” and general ability tests in which there are often questions specifying three or four geometric or numerical patterns and asking for the next shape / number in the pattern. Of course, there are usually non-unique answers to these questions they way they are usually presented, and this is a simple example of the difficulty of using induction even in relatively well-defined circumstances.

The idea of the black swan is interesting and appears to be consistent with reality. It is interesting to think about the use of this idea in the world of public policy. Perhaps it’s more personally interesting to think about it in the context of personal life.

The ETS White Paper and an update

December 17, 2008

The ETS White Paper was released yesterday launching a jungle of comment. This isn’t surprising given the popular interest in an ETS and the perception that this was a key difference between the Coalition and ALP at the last federal election. Of course, the Coalition had done an about-turn on an ETS in the last term of parliament and would have introduced a scheme had it been re-elected, but their late change of heart didn’t change the perception that they were dragged to the ETS kicking and screaming.

Whether the Coalition would have produced a fairly similar policy to the just-released White paper is an known unknown (or is it an unknown known?), but it’s a fair bet that much of it would have been similar – the assistance measures may have been different, as may have been the targets (or possibly not), but the core of it would probably have looked fairly similar.

It’s interesting to read the reaction to the White paper – or rather the targets and assistance measures. As someone working for one of the three energy market institutions, I’m happy to just read the comments, although you often come across some that make you want to give a short tutorial on “how things work”.

All I’ll say about the White paper is that it would have been a big task putting it together. I wouldn’t even like to imagine the job.

Things are pretty busy at the moment – but fortunately the holidays are near and I’m looking forward to staying in Sydney for a fortnight. It’ll be very nice to stay at home during Christmas for the first time in years. I plan to go to gym each day and maybe read a book or two.

My blog lives!

January 31, 2008

I’ve been so busy in the last few weeks it’s ridiculous. I have to ration my time! I literally havn’t had time to write on my blog. I’ve just finished the draft of a submission to a traffic study for 2011RA and I feel like I’m falling asleep.

I’ll write again in the next day or two. Ciao.

Mysticism surrounding the number 137

November 20, 2007

For some reason, the number 137 has obtained mystical significance for some people, particularly in relating to physical reality (although not to physics). It is very natural to attempt to construct order in observing the world (which is what everyone does all the time, and scientists do as their profession). However, the desire to construct order around the number 137 is probably more about mysticism than anything else.

An example of this significance can be found at the following website, which I’ll quote in part below to whet your appetite:

Solar System 1/137      Allow me a few phrases with something of mystery to avoid an inconvenient extension.    It has been said that the Greek sages gave up the cultivation of the technique because they understood that it could distract the fundamental thing. To a tree which produces fruits and branches, fruits and branches cut him, but not the connection with its roots. According to these ideas, the most indispensable thing is the most elementary thing.    The present man could lose the priority sense of the elementary thing (in science, policy, justice), by the cult to the complexity and the technique. With it the hierarchy of the most direct arbitration is lost.   It is natural that the mathematics bother many young men. The mathematical invocations should explain more natural concepts before that concept of specialists.   There are numerous indications that relate the fundamental physics to judgment elements. Know what has not been said.   Though this surprises you, here you will have to find easily connection of an unknown form fractal, a base for some new mathematics, a basis for a structure of the Solar System with identification of fine structure and Pauli exclusion principle.Meanwhile:   In the embryogenese of each animal birth around, millions’ years of evolution continuously reproduce the history of each passage until the being who is born. With the evolutionary generation of organic beings we have the unquestionable evidence of a hierarchy order.

Using mathematics and astronomy in odd religious ideas

November 15, 2007

For some reason, I was sent the following e-mail. Some people love to connect mathematics, astronomy and religion, and here’s an example.

Click on the link for more in the same vein.

3 (+/-)* Earth/Hell

                        (Earth Mass = 1)


If you’re going to Hell,

Check your reservation:




Read the rest of this entry »

New career direction

October 24, 2007

Yes, a week and a half ago I started a new job at a different organisation – the Australian Energy Market Commission (www.aemc.gov.au), a government body that writes the Rules for the National Electricity Market and conducts reviews on national energy policies. It’s interesting material for you all economic reformers – the electricity and gas networks are key elements of modern life (imagine the consequences of either drastically failing) and the associated markets are very interesting.

For all those interested in its work, I recommend downloading and reading the documents on its website. I’ve been reading and learning an enormous amount since I started the job and am already working in a project.

The Singularity Institute

September 19, 2007

Mitch Porter recently sent me this link to The Singularity Institute. In amongst the concerns of daily life and areas of immediate interest (e.g. politics), it’s very interesting to consider more long-term issues, such as how humanity might deal with an artificial intelligence that is more powerful than the mind of a human being. To quote from The Singularity Institute’s website:

In the coming decades, humanity will likely create a powerful artificial intelligence. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) exists to confront this urgent challenge, both the opportunity and the risk.

Long-term “out of the box thinking” is always needed.