Friday, August 29, 2014

Miniscule Musings

  1. NF has gushed about the awesome writing of Vikram Chandra before, especially his sprawling, beautiful ode to the Bombay criminal underworld: Sacred Games. Hence it's even more gratifying to know that greats such as James Gleick have joined the fan club! Here's Gleick's review of Chandra's "Geek Sublime" - a book about Chandra's ruminations about literature and...programming! Turns out that not only is Chandra an excellent writer but also a serious programmer (a few others with such a unique skill set include Charles-fuckin'-Stross and Neal-friggin'-Stephenson). Gleick's review is excellent and will make you want to read the latest from Vikram Chandra, in which he muses on Chomskyan generative grammar; Panini's anticipation of the same some 2500 years ago; the roots of programming languages; beauty in poetry as understood by ancient Sanskrit texts; the cosmology of Abhinavgupta and so on.

    And here's Vikram Chandra on Wired today: What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem.

  2. This is how William Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" - first in his paradigm shifting short story collection Burning Chrome - and then in his truly revolutionary and powerfully disruptive work Neuromancer. This three minute video features Gibson at his witty best - self deprecatory, wry and really funny! 

  3. And here is a collection of eleven funniest papers written in professional economics journals as compiled by Yoram Bauman - the first standup economist comedian. Though personally, NF knows that economic theorists are a funny lot (in particular game theorists are among the funniest professional groups that NF's come across - much more so than say applied mathematicians (but don't just take NF's word for it - he might be biased)) the list of works - some of them famous enough (examples being Krugman's paper on interstellar trade; and Avinash Dixit's on Seinfeld) but others, a complete revelation - examples being "Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires (Snower 1982)" and "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott Versus Brian Johnson (Oxoby 2009)". NF can't resist quoting a couple of lines from some of these papers. So here's Krugman:
    This article extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer traveling with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved. 
    Many critics of conventional economics have argued, with considerable justification, that the assumptions underlying neoclassical theory bear little resemblance to the world we know. These critics have, however, been too quick to assert that this shows that mainstream economics can never be of any use. Recent progress in the technology of space travel… make this assertion doubtful; for they raise the distinct possibility that we may eventually discover or construct a world to which orthodox economic theory applies.

    And here's Avinash Dixit - who's among the most naturally witty people NF's personally come across. A few years back, the econ blogosphere was set ablaze by his paper "An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld" with what is most definitely the greatest abstract ever: "This is a paper about nothing". 

    Here's a little more:

    In an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld (Season 7, Episode 9, original air date December 7, 1995), Elaine Benes uses a contraceptive sponge that gets taken off the market. She scours pharmacies in the neighborhood to stock a large supply, but it is finite. So she must “re-evaluate her whole screening process.” Every time she dates a new man, which happens very frequently, she has to consider a new issue: Is he spongeworthy”? The purpose of this article is to quantify this concept of spongeworthiness. 
    When Elaine uses up a sponge, she is giving up the option to have it available when an even better man comes along. Therefore using the sponge amounts to exercising a real option to wait and spongeworthiness is an option value. It can be calculated using standard option-pricing techniques. However, unlike the standard theory of financial or many real options, there are no complete markets and no replicating portfolios. Stochastic dynamic programming methods must be used.

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