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Stuff Seen, Jan+Feb+Mar 2019

Posted by StepTb su aprile 19, 2019

Caótica Ana (Julio Medem, 2007) [7]
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared (Joseph Pelling, Becky Sloan, 2011) [8]
The Putin Interviews (Oliver Stone, 2017) [5] [Stone always remains on the surface of the topics, never going into depth, hearing a string of basics answers and never challenging their content… not a documentary, not a good interview, not a good commentary: in short, useless]
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (David Slade, 2018) [6.5]
Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) [6.5] [the last 30 minutes are a 7, everything that comes before is a 5; it looks like Garland is talented visually, but in desperate need of some good screenwriters, because for more than one hour this film is totally mediocre, and only when the pure visuals take the front seat it starts to shine (but it’s too late)]
Rocco (Thierry Demaizière, Alban Teurlai, 2016) [7]
Ozark, s1 ep1 (Jason Bateman, 2017) [6]
The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015) [7] [yes, I agree this is not among his best; but, I can’t give less than 7 to the film with the best character development I’ve seen in a long time – I’m talking about how the relationship between Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix develops throughout the story, in a progression that flows in a perfectly natural way, and ends with the birth of a friendship right before the moment of common death, depicted with a mix of lighthearted black comedy and poetry, and a sense of drama just entering the frame, in a balanced, delicate way, without shouting. Just very good screenwriting that reminds us of the good old days when this quality level was way more common…]
A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005) [8]
Love (Gaspar Noé, 2015) [6.5]
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 2018) [7-] [a minor work in their canon, but still good]
Spy Game (Tony Scott, 2001) [7]
Aquarius, s1 ep1 (Jonas Pate, 2015) [6]
Aquarius, s1 ep2 (Jonas Pate, 2015) [6.5]
Incorporated, s1 ep1 (David Pastor, Àlex Pastor, 2016) [7]
Chorok mulkogi / Green Fish (Chang-dong Lee, 1997) [7]
Bakha satang / Peppermint Candy (Chang-dong Lee, 1999) [7]
Tonî Takitani (Jun Ichikawa, 2004) [8]
Beoning / Burning (Chang-dong Lee, 2018) [8]
Conspiracy Theory (Richard Donner, 1997) [6]
You, s1 ep1 (Lee Toland Krieger, 2018) [6.5]
Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017) [6.5]
Gegen die Wand (Fatih Akin, 2004) [7]
Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006) [5] [not sure what’s the point of this movie; it just rambles on, without substance or depth, unable to make the story interesting]
Rounders (John Dahl, 1998) [7.5]
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (Eli Craig, 2010) [7+] [a rare example of a movie which is very silly and very ingenious at the same time, a good fun watch]
The Return of the Living Dead (Dan O’Bannon, 1985) [7]
Return of the Living Dead: Part II (Ken Wiederhorn, 1988) [5]
Return of the Living Dead III (Brian Yuzna, 1993) [6]


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At the age of 30, what should you already have established?

Posted by StepTb su aprile 19, 2019

  • Being fully independent (you don’t need money from anyone else for food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs)
  • Having a professional profile (for soul searching, studying, etc. you have your teens and 20s, which is a long enough time; your ideas and your plan should be developed and in order by this point, together with a solid skill set to execute them)
  • Having at least 1 year of living expenses in the bank (your 20s are also for saving up – live with 5 flatmates or your parents if necessary)
  • Having no debts (sorry Americans)
  • Having an interesting/creative talent (which you should have developed during your previous 29 years – otherwise, where was the fun? – and will be crucial to maintain your joie de vivre and mental health for all the years ahead of you)

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Why is Marx read so much less by economists than by other social scientists?

Posted by StepTb su aprile 19, 2019

It’s the proof that Economics is the most scientific social science, because with time it has developed a methodology that uses models and falsifications, and based on the scientific method it has dismissed the Marxist model as worse at explaining reality compared to available alternatives.

To make it short and focus only on one core aspect: the foundation of the Marxist model rests on a Locke-inspired Labor Theory of Value. Marx’s formulation of this theory, and his body of work overall, were considered scientifically cutting-edge at the time, an exceptional work of synthesis and analysis.
But then the contributions of Carl Menger, Léon Walras, William Stanley Jevons, Eugen Böhm von Bawerk… gave birth to the so-called Marginal Revolution and a much more accurate Subjective Theory of Value. This theory explained and justified capital accumulation in a clearly superior way. And it proved the Marxist model can’t be correct, because there’s no “excess labor” that is exploited – the value of that labor is determined subjectively by the parties that engage in the labor transaction.
Marginalism has been since then scrutinized, tweaked, optimized, and at the end fully integrated in the mainstream Economic theory. Other ideas don’t survive the scrutiny and the tweaks, and they don’t get integrated.

From a purely economic point of view, the Marxist model of reality can’t be applied at all nowadays – it has been scientifically dismissed. This is why it’s not used, and, as a consequence, his work is often not even read at all (the graduate students who read it, do it only for history-centered courses, or for purely personal intellectual curiosity – time is scarce and curricula correctly focus on other things first).

Other fields, unfortunately, have a methodology that is not scientific enough to let them filter/formulate ideas/models in such a way. And thus, for some students and researchers driven not by a healthy intellectual thirst for knowledge but by ideologies, gaming the system and pushing forward strictly personal views formulated in non-falsifiable ways and with shaky empirical support is easier. These people of course exist in any field, Economics included – but, the stricter the methodology, the less easy it is for them to reach an influential position within the field and have an impact. This is why, in Economics, a lot of cranks discover they can’t go anywhere within the field, and thus work a lot to gain influence outside of it, leveraging mass media and/or politics. This nasty trend has increased since the 2008 recession, with more and more bad economists infecting the mainstream sphere and public discourse.

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What is smartness?

Posted by StepTb su aprile 19, 2019

In my opinion, smartness is creativity + pragmatism + experience.
This combination makes it possible to do smart stuff because the three factors balance each other’s blind spots out.

  1. You’re either born creative or you aren’t. Creative people score high in the Openness personality trait of the Big5 model, and can be spotted very early in life due to their constant flow of ideas and vivid imagination when playing, their early interest in reading because they love absorbing the information, etc.
  2. Pragmatism is probably half innate half learned. Pragmatism makes you able to prioritize your creative ideas, focus on the ones that could actually make an impact, plus identify and adopt the procedures and tools to apply them in the real world.
  3. Experience is completely learned. You need time to get “domain knowledge” to even begin understanding how you could apply your innate creativity to specific and real problems.

This combination explains why in my opinion being just creative or just intelligent is never enough to actually be “smart”. You’ll need to gain a lot of specific experience to identify the biggest blind spots in a system, the most interesting possibilities in a “domain”, and the most important goals for your specific case, for then being able to use a good dose of pragmatism to prioritize them and design achievable roadmaps to get there.
Smartness is the – in large part learned – ability to leverage your natural talents.

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What is your favorite quote from “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson?

Posted by StepTb su aprile 19, 2019

“Today we’re not so much fragmenting as we are re-forming along different dimensions. These days our watercoolers are increasingly virtual; there are many different ones; and the people who gather around them are self-selected. Rather than being loosely connected with people thanks to superficial mass-cultural overlaps, we have the ability to be more strongly tied to just as many if not more people with a shared affinity for niche culture.

Although the decline of mainstream cultural institutions may result in some people turning to echo chambers of like-minded views, I suspect that over time the power of human curiosity combined with near-infinite access to information will tend to make most people more open-minded, not less.

As much as the blockbuster era seems like the natural state of things, it is, as we’ve seen, mostly an artifact of late-twentieth-century broadcast technologies. Before then most culture was local; in the future it will be affinity-based and massively parallel. Mass culture may fade, but common culture will not. We will still share our culture with others, but not with everyone.”

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Does the particularly deep Italian crisis also depend on the fact that, according to studies by the OECD, Italian schools have slipped to the 40th place in the world?

Posted by StepTb su novembre 24, 2018

First of all the Italian “crisis” is not a crisis (even journalists stopped using this term), it’s a decline that started in the mid-to-late 1970s and that just suddenly accelerated its pace first after 1992 and then after the 2008 recession.

That said, the school system is a good proxy to understand how a whole country works.

Like I showed with data here, the Italian high school system is still one of the most demanding in the world, and at least for sure it’s like that if you go to a difficult high school like a Liceo Scientifico.
The average Italian student stays in class for more hours, studies more pages from more books, and spends many more hours on homework, compared to the world’s average, and is surpassed in those metrics only by a small bunch of countries like China and Singapore.
And yet, on international tests, Italian students are not regularly at the top. What’s going on there?
Easy answer: no efficiency. This is a reflection of how the whole Italian system works: just add more and more, instead of cutting down. Solve all problems by adding more. Adding taxes, adding bureaucracy, adding hours, adding people in places where you instead should cut all this stuff down.
Compare the Italian high schools with the Finnish or Japanese ones: students there study much less compared to almost every other developed country, but on average they perform much better.

If you have a bad equilibrium where let’s say 60% (group A) are productive, performing well and following the rules, while 40% (group B) are skipping work and not following rules, you DON’T fix anything if you ADD work and rules to THE WHOLE GROUP – The A group will just have an increased workload, and the B one will keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing until that point.
But this is how in Italy every decision maker has tried (and miserably failed) to “fix” things since the 1970s or so.
The obvious result of this is a wrong incentive system where you just squeeze and consume “A” citizens more every year.

For example, you’re never going to fix a leaking fiscal system by adding more taxes to everyone.
Two good ways to do it are
1. Forcing localities to be fiscally responsible and independent from central gov spending as much as possible
2. Forcing the average size of firms to increase
This way you’re correctly segmenting, identifying the bad segments, and forcing them to converge towards a higher standard.
We haven’t been doing any of this, instead every single government still to this day has worked in the total opposite direction, by trying to centralize even more public spending and by pandering to voters eulogizing how wonderful micro and small firms are.
What happens in the real world, in the meantime? Group A gets squeezed like a lemon with an overall tax increase, and that’s the solution to everything.

Schools work in the exact same way. No will to take the bad teachers, bad processes, and bad students, and invest most of your resources to make them good (and, if they don’t want to, just cut them down and make the social cost of their bad behavior remain mostly on their shoulders).
Instead, let’s add more hours, more subjects, more books, more homework, and hire more teachers (no matter how good they are), and things will magically be fixed.
Also, the school system is dramatically underfunded, and school workers have definitely a right to protest, but every time they do, the tone of their arguments implies money is needed to add more hours, more subjects, more books, more homework, more teachers…

Even more ironically, the first thing that happens when you try to “solve” problems this way, is that you increase internal inequality. By forcing “everyone” (which in practice means only group A, because they’ll be the only ones following what you tell them to do) to higher and higher standards every year, and at the same time avoiding to fix or crack down on group B, you end up pushing the good ones more and more away from the average. Just because you’re too afraid of being “unequal” by making distinctions, you instead end up producing exactly a spike in internal inequality – a world of excellence on one side and mediocrity on the other, nothing in between.

The second thing that happens, productivity of course slows down. If you suck up more and more time and resources from group A, they won’t have the time and resources to reach their full potential and benefit others.
If your priority is making life difficult for group A rather than leaving them breathe as much as possible and focusing most of your efforts on making group B more similar to group A, the system overall will stagnate because resources are misallocated.
Couple this with a strong demographic decline, and it’s exactly what has happened in Italy since the 1990s. The country has been basically stagnating for 30 years now.
And, once you have a long stagnation with a pie not growing, and a system that rewards the wrong cohorts (ex. shifting a larger and larger % of gdp into pensions – at the moment it’s 16% and the current government plans of pushing it up to 18% to not lose votes), the new generations have only two choices: giving up and just living a parasitic life consuming their family’s accumulated capital (15–29 year-olds NEET numbers are the worst of all OECD countries, with 26% not studying nor working; Turkey’s 28% seems the only worse one, but once you separate for gender, Turkey’s number is driven entirely by women at 41%, while in Italy men are at 25% and women 27%), or trying to support themselves and ending up living like slaves (check current entry level salaries, then add to the equation taxes and costs of living and you’ll see what I mean).

The third thing that happens, you obviously end up throwing out more and more “group A” people from the country. What’s the incentive for them to remain there and get treated this way?


See also: Why is Italy poorer and more underdeveloped than other European countries? (more in-depth about productivity and labor market issues)

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Stuff Seen, Jul+Aug+Sep 2018

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 6, 2018

Mei ren yu / The Mermaid (Stephen Chow, 2016) [6.5]
Ah-ga-ssi / The Handmaiden (Chan-wook Park, 2016) [5] [the high ratings for this absolutely average movie are incomprehensible]
Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014) [7]
Merchants of Doubt (Robert Kenner, 2014) [7]
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005) [7.5]
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014) [8]
Dirty Money, s1 ep6, “The Confidence Man” (Fisher Stevens, 2018) [7]
Billions, s1 ep1 (Neil Burger, 2016) [6.5]
Zero Days (Alex Gibney, 2016) [7.5]
American Gods, s1 ep1 (David Slade, 2017) [6]
The Science of Interstellar (Gail Willumsen, 2015) [6.5]
Sedmikrásky (Vera Chytilová, 1966) [7]
Valerie a týden divu (Jaromil Jires, 1970) [8]
Le départ (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1967) [6.5]
Performance (Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg, 1970) [6.5]
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) [7]
La double vie de Véronique (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1991) [8.5]
Trois couleurs: Bleu (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993) [8]
Trois couleurs: Blanc (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994) [8]
Trois couleurs: Rouge (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994) [8.5]
Les fantômes du chapelier (Claude Chabrol, 1982) [6.5]
Merci pour le chocolat (Claude Chabrol, 2000) [6.5]
Black Widow (Bob Rafelson, 1987) [6.5]
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, 2014) [6.5]
The Man Who Discovered Capitalism (Detlef Siebert, 2016) [6.5]
Mindhunter, s1 ep1 (David Fincher, 2017) [6.5]
Mindhunter, s1 ep2 (David Fincher, 2017) [6.5]
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014) [6]
Hell on Wheels, s1 ep1 (David Von Ancken, 2011) [7]
(М)ученик / The Student (Kirill Serebrennikov, 2016) [6]
Nelyubov / Loveless (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2017) [6]

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Why do most Croatians have their name ending with “Ch” (pronunciation)?

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 6, 2018

It’s one of the variations of a patronymic.

Slavic name suffixes – Wikipedia

“Many, if not most, Slavic last names are formed by adding possessive and other suffixes to given names and other words. Most Slavic surnames have suffixes which are found in varying degrees over the different nations.”

-ić -vić -ović -ič -vič -ovič -ich, -vich, -vych, -ovich, -owicz/-ewicz: Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Republic of Macedonia (rare), occasionally Bulgaria. Yugoslav ex.: Petrović, means Petar’s son. In Russia, where patronyms are used, a person may have two -(ov)ich names in a row; first the patronym, then the family name (see Shostakovich).”

For example, my surname literally means “Stephen’s Son”.

When you encounter a Slavic surname ending with -ch, it usually means it comes from territories where the main transliteration used was the Latin one, and it has remained written down that way since then.
You can typically find the same exact surname spelled with -ć, and it just means it was either originally written down with the “Slavic” spelling, or changed to it at some point.
Just like you can find it ending with -c, which is nothing more than the previous spelling “made easy” by losing the accent.

Originally, this type of surnames comes from the early Middle Ages. This can be called a Proto-Balto-Slavic “common” era, when Croats were also known as “Veneti/Veneði/Venethi/Venedi”.
The original ethno-linguistic group of the “Veneti” was from the Vistula region (south-eastern Poland and western Ukraine).

Balto-Slavic languages – Wikipedia
Vistula Veneti – Wikipedia

“The term [Vistula Veneti] has been used in modern times to distinguish the Veneti (as noted by Roman and Greek geographers), who lived on the Central European plains, from the Germanic and Sarmatian tribes around them, and other Veneti tribes elsewhere, such as the Adriatic Veneti (modern-day Veneto), the Veneti of Armorica, and the Paphlagonian Veneti (modern-day Paphlagonia).”

Lots of people in modern Croatia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Northeast Italy, etc. share this common Proto-Balto-Slavic root, and the long development process of their current languages has created a richness of variations of the same common basics.

The suffix -ch was written down this way when using the Latin alphabet.
The same exact sound becomes -ć with the split from Proto-Indo-European that gives birth to the Proto-Slavic common language, and goes then through many developments in the following centuries, creating the various modern Slavic languages.
The development and standardization of modern Croatian starts much later (17th century) after that first split, and doesn’t end until after Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia.
From the same root/organizational system comes the Polish -cz (-vich becoming -wicz, -ich becoming -icz).

Thus you can find dozens of surnames that are just written in the same way they were written down back in the Middle Ages (-ch, -c or -ć, depending on the spelling used in their relative area). Others have been changed with subsequent wars and shifts of power. For example, it’s common in an area like Northeast Italy-Istria-Dalmatia (where the same territory has been under Venice, the Habsburgs, Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia, and then Italy/Slovenia/Croatia) to find people from the same exact family who have changed from -ch to -ć, and/or vice versa from -ć back to -ch, depending on what was the last dominant language. Once Yugoslavia was formed, the surnames in -ch were made homogeneous to the already existing ones ending in -ć, while people from the same family who remained, say, in Trieste, kept the -ch. The surname and the sound are exactly the same, but they match the historical and/or dominant spelling forms of the relative area.

These spelling variations are quite common in all Slavic names and surnames (the most obvious cases being of course the transliterations in Latin from the languages that use Cyrillic).

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Do many people applying to Data scientist positions end up either unemployed or in other positions because of the intense competition for most data scientist positions?

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 6, 2018

If you’re good at automating stuff via programming you’re never going to be unemployed.
Economic growth nowadays comes in large part from increasing productivity, which is done by automating.

If you’re good at analyzing and interpreting data, same thing.
Data is the equivalent of oil in the digital economy.

What you’re probably referring to is a specific type of position that matches the classic description of what a DS does that you can find posted online everywhere.
Well, the problem with that type of role is not exactly the competition. You’re going to find it difficult to get a position like that even if your skill set is perfectly aligned. The problem is that the companies owning very large data sets that also have a specific strategy about how to leverage them are still a low number, and for the moment are either American or Chinese.
You need to get hired by one of those companies in order to get the experience needed to reach the type of DS role you have in mind and articles on the interwebz love to talk about.

But why obsess over that when the same skills can get you so many easily accessible alternatives?

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Why is becoming a data scientist so difficult?

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 6, 2018

It’s like asking why is becoming [any other high-level profession] difficult. DS is not an entry-level position, and I’m constantly surprised by how many here on Quora or elsewhere seem to think it is.

Let’s leave the theory alone, since the typical answer focuses on that.

The real mountain to climb is not learning theory, which is the starting point and can be done on your own, but developing as an applied programmer + developing a domain knowledge. Having all three is the only way to reach a DS position, because otherwise you’re not going to be useful there. You’ll just sit on a mountain of data and stare into the abyss, but that’s what the folks who accumulated that data are already doing, and they don’t need you for that.

For the first part, there’s no shortcut – you just have to practice constantly and challenge yourself with progressively complex issues to solve *in a real setting*. When you come out of academia you have no clue about this. And you won’t be able to do it in your room. You’ll need a work environment where you’ll be given real datasets and you’ll deal with real problems you’re expected to solve. This way you’ll be able to develop an eye for practical solutions.

For the second part, forget about shortcuts either. Developing domain knowledge is fundamental to understand what questions need to be asked, and the only way to reach that point of awareness is to work in a specific field and understand where exactly the well-known issues typically are, where the possible points of optimization are, and what ideas are actually still unexplored (and not new and cool in your head, but old news outside of it).

Previous points can take easily 10 years of work experience, and, even if there’s a fast progression in challenges and complexity, 5 years bare minimum.

Finding a place where that progression happens and you’re finally able to reach the point of being useful in DS is what’s really difficult.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A person loves to socialize, but is too shy for that. Is s/he an introvert or an extrovert?

Posted by StepTb su luglio 6, 2018

One of the most common misconceptions people who have never studied psychology have.

Shyness is social inhibition. It has nothing to do with I/E personality preferences. In fact, when you break personality down using the Big5, shyness is related to the trait Neuroticism, not Introversion. Because it’s Neuroticism (feeling negative emotions strongly), and especially its facet Withdrawal (which is the one containing the subfacets of Anxiety, Self-consciousness and Vulnerability), that triggers the social inhibition mechanism.

If you feel a strong desire to be social and gregarious, but you can’t because you’re shy (=inhibited), you’re more likely to be an extravert.
Not all extraverts are born with superb social skills. But they’re better and faster at learning them because they value them much more in relation to their personal goals. Also, many of them are born with both high extraversion and high neuroticism, which causes mixed effects. Finally, even among the extraverts who are actually born with good social skills and are not naturally high in neuroticism, many are then repressed by environmental factors.

A good read: The H Factor of Personality

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What’s something wealthy people know that normal people should know?

Posted by StepTb su luglio 6, 2018

Basically, everything listed in The Millionaire Next Door, a mythbusting research into the actual habits of actual American millionaires.
All “normal” people should just buy it and read it – even if I’m quite sure that, no matter how many times they read it, most will not put those things into practice.

Three points in my opinion especially stand out:
1) Millionaires not only have a different view of money, time and wealth, but also marry people who have those same views; in fact, the wives of the researched male millionaires were often even more strategic and thrifty than them
2) Their kids don’t grow up spoiled, and are economically self-sufficient the moment they become adults; millionaires are driven by the idea of passing down their wealth, therefore they’ll give the next generation the necessary knowledge and tools to learn its value, manage it well, and avoid burning it
3) They couldn’t care less about playing the consumerism game, wasting their resources (including time) just to display high social status (hence the book’s title); that path makes you more dependent, not less

Most people don’t care about becoming millionaires, but most people care about being financially stable. Thus, applying the book’s principles just partially would already be enough… but too many don’t (and won’t) even do that.

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Stuff Seen, Apr+May+Jun 2018

Posted by StepTb su luglio 6, 2018

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980) [8.5]
The Matrix (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999) [7.5]
Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017) [7]
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953) [7.5]
The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003) [7.5]
While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach, 2014) [7]
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016) [7]
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017) [7]
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961) [7]
Silicon Valley, s2 ep. 1-10 (Mike Judge & Alec Berg, 2015) [7]

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What are some other good books I might enjoy if I loved “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 22, 2018

Shorter, lighter reads: Predictably Irrational (revised)Free Market MadnessFreakonomics, and The Myth of the Rational Voter

Real-world applications, in organizations and public policy: NudgeExamples from Singapore, and Wiser

Applications to finance and investing: Beyond Greed and Fear, and Irrational Exhuberance

Less “pop” and more advanced, regarding decision-making: Rational Choice in an Uncertain World

On decision-making and counterintuition, but more pop: More Than You Know, and Think Twice

On political and religious tribalism: The Righteous Mind, and Going to Extremes

Historical perspective on how the field has evolved: Misbehaving


Related, on status-seeking and the human quest for personal satisfaction: Choosing the Right Pond

Related, on analysts and forecasters: Superforecasting

Related, a different perspective: Gut Feelings

Related, a biological approach: Behave (this one is comparable in size, scope and ambition as well)

Related, on human cooperation: The Evolution of Cooperation

Related, on decision-making using insights from Neuroscience, Economics and Psychology (academic/legit, not pop): Neuroeconomics

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What is your review of Thinking, Fast And Slow (book)?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 22, 2018

If we were to organize a top10 of the greatest non-fiction books of 2000–2020, I think Thinking, Fast and Slow should make it.

The book was published in 2011, but it’s already a classic, and has dramatically changed the debate in anything related to the social sciences.

It summarizes some of the most interesting insights from the last 50 years of research in cognitive and social psychology, and it makes self-evident how large their effects can be on other fields like economics and politics.

With one exception: the chapter on priming. I’m actually surprised Kahneman included that one, since in 2011 the ground the theory was resting on was already shaky.
Danny himself wrote an open letter about this and related issues just one year later, and confirmed including priming was a mistake in 2017.
Priming is still being cited and used by a large amount of people doing bad science and trying to become famous “pop psychology” figures, “influencers”, marketers, or politically influential activists by pumping up studies that are badly designed and/or failed to replicate. This is why it’s important to underline the mistake and instead make it clear that it’s not-reproducible pseudoscience. See hereherehere and here.
Even the very example made famous by the book, the “watching eye effect”, failed to replicate recently.

Conclusion: it’s a must-read, but skip the chapter on priming.

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If the Stanford prison experiment was fake, does it mean its findings are fake as well?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 22, 2018


Like many have already noted, in psychology it was widely known that the SPE was badly designed as an experiment – and its conclusions were not just unreliable, but it was unclear in any case what they even were.

But what in the popular culture are thought of being the SPE’s conclusions, are in fact the conclusions of the Milgram Experiment and its variations. Which have been successfully replicated.

Add to those Sheridan & King, and the Asch conformity experiment plus its variations, which all tap into very overlapping mechanisms and have been replicated as well.

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What is the fastest declining religion?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 22, 2018

At any point in history, any religion with the highest growth in incomes and wealth for its members will be the fastest declining one as well.

This is due to the combined effect of these trends:

  1. Religiosity is both heritable and strongly related to fertility.
  2. Wealth and income are negatively related to fertility.
  3. Religiosity is negatively related to urbanization.

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Which Eastern European countries have the best chances of surpassing Western European countries? (by economic development)

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

In terms of GDP per capita, the best positioned is Estonia.

The country has, for now, made all the best possible choices it could have made regarding economic reforms and digitalization of the public and private sector, has a good education system, very low levels of crime, a lean and fast bureaucracy, a sustainable <8% pensions/GDP ratio, a healthy financial sector, citizens with a strong civic sense, and a culture that firmly and instinctively rejects bad populist (both leftist and conservative) policies disguised as “socially good”.

Tallinn is already the biggest innovative ecosystem in Eastern Europe in terms of investments volume and ROI on startups.
They really want you to bring money and businesses there, and have made things as attractive as they could from a bureaucratic and fiscal point of view.

The crucial problem Estonia faces is a dramatic brain drain – young professionals get a good education and formation, but then escape to some other place in Western Europe where the climate is less cold and salaries are high, no matter how smart and effective their own government is.

Other possible issues: geographic location, and small territorial size (but in an advanced digital economy, they can be both at least partially neutralized).

Give it time, though.
We’ve already had two examples of countries following similar patterns and strategies: Singapore and Israel. Look at where they both are now.
Also, many Western European countries seem to struggle quite a bit with heavy debt, aging population, absurd bureaucracy, and are not at the point where they should be in terms of digitalizing the economy and creating innovative ecosystems. The political direction is controlled by baby boomers, and they’re systematically averse to any possible loss of privileges and any status quo change. The majority of the wealth is in their hands, and is not getting invested where it should. The political currents on the rise are infected by far right and far left populists talking about rubbish instead of sound, rational reforms.

Estonia either didn’t start with or already solved those problems when it was time to first rebuild itself fast after 1991, and then to push itself hard to join the EU in 2004. They won’t likely face anything similar in the next decades, and they’re small, flexible and rational enough to potentially become an Eastern Europe’s equivalent of Singapore. Time will tell…

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What does the Hungarian language sound like to those who don’t speak it?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

I lived in Budapest for 4 months.

I’m a native Italian, but quite accustomed to listening to Slavic languages, especially Croatian and Slovenian, and with of course an obvious exposure to Germanic languages as well as other Romance languages.

The first big thing I noticed was how it didn’t sound Slavic at all, and it didn’t have any of the typical Slavic sounds. Ditto for Germanic. Almost all Slavic (with, for me, the interesting exception of Russian, which I find quite “polished” and musical compared to the others) and Germanic (yes, even English, at least in part) languages can sound quite harsh and “angular” when you come from a Romance language – while Hungarian doesn’t. The sounds are softer and the words and sentences have a better flow, more fluid.

The second, surprising one, was that it didn’t seem like it had an accent. Not only that, but it sounded more “natural” and similar to what I’d recognize as an Italian speaking. The bizarre sensation was to feel like people could have easily switched and talked to me in Italian from one moment to the next if they wanted. That’s probably because of the ancient connection to Finnish, which is oddly similar in phonetics and pronunciation to Italian.
Written Hungarian doesn’t look like anything else (you can just find some similarities with Finnish, Estonian and Turkish, but it’s a stretch), so you have to start decoding it from absolute zero, and this created the very weird contrast of listening to familiar sounds, which thus sounded easy to the ear, that at the same time looked impossibly alien once seen in their written form.

Finally, Hungarians sounded to me like having a quite “steady” way of speaking, with little swings or peaks in any direction. And, when someone had a more different tone than the average, it almost always was on the soft-spoken side of the spectrum. I never heard anyone shouting, and rarely someone even being just loud (then again, my benchmark is Italians, so I’m sure many Northern and Eastern Europeans will disagree). This also contributes to the way you process what you hear.

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What’s a better personality indicator test than the MBTI?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 5, 2018

The MBTI has four main problems:
1. The black-and-white dichothomy, which is enough to make it unscientific: a person scoring 49% on Extraversion will be classified as Introverted, and more similar to someone scoring 5%, while instead being basically identical to an Extravert who scored 51%.
2. The cognitive functions theory; this is absolute pseudoscience with no empiricism behind it whatsoever. But you can choose to ignore that whole part, like many do, and only read the result as a 4-dimension measure – that approach will actually lead to more accurate insights.
3. There is an industry behind it, that is interested in pushing it and promote it to make money.
4. The whole F/T dimension is bogus. First of all, it’s been proven by science that all our choices and decisions derive first from an emotional impulse, and there’s a process of rationalization after it that works to justify the impulse (this is why the scientific method is hard – you have to train yourself to go against human nature – and necessitates of peer reviews and communities). Which means that we’re all actually “F”. Second, the work of Kahneman and Tversky on the difference between intelligence and rationality is quite brilliant, and it would make sense to have a dimension for that, but that’s *not* what F/T measures, even if most of the people who score T will tell you otherwise to feel superior (while in reality a person scoring high in T can be completely irrational). Third, we now know (from research with the Big5 model) that feeling often/strongly positive emotions is associated with Extraversion, and feeling often/strongly negative emotions with Neuroticism. Thus, those two Big5 dimensions actually capture much better (and they do it twice more precisely, by separating them) what’s *really* going on in the F/T dimension. So you have “super feelers” (high E + high N) as well as “super stoics” (low E + low N), plus all the other possible combinations in the middle.

The Big5 solves 1 and 4, doesn’t have 2 and 3, and at the same time doesn’t sacrifice any of the “good” parts, because S/N gets captured by Openness, J/P by Conscientiousness, and E/I remains the same.
On the other hand, it has the annoying issue that the 5 dimensions were named with an obvious implicit value judgment. For example, why call it Agreeable/Disagreeable instead of Non-Confrontational/Confrontational? The name choice is clearly biased and quite irksome. But still, the scientific value of the test is definitely higher than MBTI’s.

Also, Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton expanded the Big5 model with an additional dimension, H, which measures Honesty-Humility.
The only problem is they also rebranded Neuroticism as Emotionality, which is misleading.
With the additional H dimension, it’s also possible to identify narcissistic (low H, high E) and psychopathic (low H, low C, low N) tendencies.
One of their most interesting/useful findings is that high Agreeableness doesn’t actually predict high Honesty-Humility, which makes high A + low H people particularly deceitful and dangerous, since the high A works like a social mask hiding the low H.
I strongly recommend reading their book The H Factor of Personality for a breakdown of all the 6 dimensions and the research behind them.

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