Archive for July, 2005

What a lot of wheatgrass

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

I think the Economist have seen right through the mystique of Google:

Now valued at more than $80 billion, Google has left in the dust the other three internet Wunderkinder—Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon—and even passed media stalwarts such as Time Warner. How does Google do it?

At least in part by shrewdly manufacturing a winning mystique. No outsider today can prove definitively that Google is not an office park full of geniuses who could at any moment announce, simultaneously, world peace and a cure for the common cold. That is because no outsider today can say anything definitive about Google at all. This is intentional. Google makes itself totally opaque by camouflaging itself with lots of what journalists call “colour?.

Web site: Al Qaeda in Iraq abducted Egyptian envoy

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

Al-Qaeda are now apparently claiming that they were the ones to snatch the Egyptian’s top diplomat in Iraq:

“We announce, al Qaeda in Iraq, that the Egyptian ambassador had been kidnapped by our mujahedeen, and he is under their control,” said a statement on an Islamic Web site linked to the group. CNN could not confirm the statement’s authenticity. The posting said al-Zarqawi is expected to issue a longer announcement soon.

PHP Blogging Apps Open to XML-RPC Exploits

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

Looks like I will have to upgrade to some of the more recent WordPress releases. You have been warned.

Monkey business-sense

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

I rather liked this story from last week’s Economist. It concerns risk aversion in humans and monkeys.

When buying things in a straight exchange of money for goods, people often respond to changes in price in exactly the way that theoretical economics predicts. But when faced with an exchange whose outcome is predictable only on average, most people prefer to avoid the risk of making a loss than to take the chance of making a gain in circumstances when the average expected outcome of the two actions would be the same.

…Keith Chen, of the Yale School of Management, and his colleagues decided to investigate its evolutionary past. They reasoned that if they could find similar behaviour in another species of primate (none of which has yet invented a cash economy) this would suggest that loss-aversion evolved in a common ancestor. They chose the capuchin monkey, Cebus apella, a South American species often used for behavioural experiments.

So the experiment was carried out as follows:

First, the researchers had to introduce their monkeys to the idea of a cash economy. They did this by giving them small metal discs while showing them food. The monkeys quickly learned that humans valued these inedible discs so much that they were willing to trade them for scrumptious pieces of apple, grapes and jelly.

Preliminary experiments established the amount of apple that was valued as much as either a grape or a cube of jelly, and set the price accordingly, at one disc per food item. The monkeys were then given 12 discs and allowed to trade them one at a time for whichever foodstuff they preferred.

Once the price had been established, though, it was changed. The size of the apple portions was doubled, effectively halving the price of apple. At the same time, the number of discs a monkey was given to spend fell from 12 to nine. The result was that apple consumption went up in exactly the way that price theory (as applied to humans) would predict. Indeed, averaged over the course of ten sessions it was within 1% of the theory’s prediction. One up to Cebus economicus.

The experimenters then began to test their animals’ risk aversion. They did this by offering them three different trading regimes in succession. Each required choosing between the wares of two experimental “salesmen?. In the first regime one salesman offered one piece of apple for a disc, while the other offered two. However, half the time the second salesman only handed over one piece. Despite this deception, the monkeys quickly worked out that the second salesman offered the better overall deal, and came to prefer him.

In the second trading regime, the salesman offering one piece of apple would, half the time, add a free bonus piece once the disc had been handed over. The salesman offering two pieces would, as in the first regime, actually hand over only one of them half the time. In this case, the average outcome was identical, but the monkeys quickly reversed their behaviour from the first regime and came to prefer trading with the first salesman.

In the third regime, the second salesman always took the second piece of apple away before handing over the goods, while the first never gave freebies. So, once again, the outcomes were identical. In this case, however, the monkeys preferred the first salesman even more strongly than in the second regime.

What the responses to the second and third regimes seem to have in common is a preference for avoiding apparent loss, even though that loss does not, in strictly economic terms, exist. That such behaviour occurs in two primates suggests a common evolutionary origin. It must, therefore, have an adaptive explanation.

What that explanation is has yet to be worked out. One possibility is that in nature, with a food supply that is often barely adequate, losses that lead to the pangs of hunger are felt more keenly than gains that lead to the comfort of satiety. Agriculture has changed that calculus, but people still have the attitudes of the hunter-gatherer wired into them. Economists take note.

And yes I would be much more pro-nature as oppose to nurture.

Jeff Jarvis moves to WordPress

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

Jeff Jarvis has been having problems with his server, and has decided to defect to WordPress. The template is essentially the same one I use for Irish Corruption (the default one), but slightly modified. His readers seem happy with the impending change, I hope he likes WordPress.

Irish libel

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

After just 2 weeks the question of libel has arisen on Irish Corruption. Could someone out there put together guidelines for Irish bloggers?

Interview on 5-7 live

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

I think you should all go and listen to Boucher-Hayes interview Anthony O’Sullivan. Makes you think to say the least.

Europe vs America

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

This old argument has raised its head again. Andrew Hammel, an American living in Germany, praises how people on this side of the pond live, in celebration of July 4th. He was prompted by Matthew Yglesias writing about how French people live, and this prompted Kevin Drum to jump on the bandwagon. My turn.

Says Hammel, advising Americans on living in Europe:

*Don’t brag to other people about how hard you work. If you go up to someone in Europe and say “I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year. Look how much I achieve!” you’ll get the same reaction you would in America if you said “I wash my hands exactly 169 times a day. Look how clean they are! Look! Look!!!”

*Learn your environment. Take into account how much work you can really expect from Europeans. Don’t expect anything to get done in August, don’t expect a response to your email the same day. If you really need to get in touch with someone while they are on vacation, or on the weekend, you won’t be able to. Which means not that they are being irresponsible. It means you don’t really need to get in touch with them.

*Change your standards. Realize that when someone complains about being horribly overworked, even though you know they are working about 40 hours a week, accept it. By their standards, they are working very hard. Helpful thought-experiment: Europeans pay about $5/gallon for gas. Wouldn’t you want them to display compassion for you when you complain about paying $2?

Thoughts on this folks? I honestly think there is more to life to working every hour god sends, we all need time to blog don’t we? I have often had this conversation with cousins in the US, and they always envy the level of vacation time we get here in Ireland. Indeed when they visit it’s almost always for a very short time, because they have to get back to work. While here companies offer so much paid vacation time people sometimes don’t know what to do with it all.

I know it has been discussed at length before on BSD.

The End of the Rainbow

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

Caoimhe recently pointed to an article by Tom Friedman in the New York Times about the Irish economy:

Ireland’s advice is very simple: Make high school and college education free; make your corporate taxes low, simple and transparent; actively seek out global companies; open your economy to competition; speak English; keep your fiscal house in order; and build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management – then hang in there, because there will be bumps in the road – and you, too, can become one of the richest countries in Europe.

And not only that the front page of the Irish Times today had more news about the Irish economy:

Current expenditure is modestly below target for the first six months of the year. The surplus on day-to- day expenditure corresponds to a planned surplus of €4,092 million for the year as a whole. Net current expenditure is 8 per cent up on the same period of 2004, compared with a projected increase of 11 per cent for the full year.

The shortfall in capital expenditure is more stark. The Government predicted on Budget day that capital expenditure would exceed corresponding revenues by €7,080 million. But capital expenditure was 13 per cent below target for the first half of the year, contributing to a relatively lower mid-year deficit.

Reform of capital spending rules now permit some money left unspent in 2004 to be carried forward and when this is accounted for capital expenditure increased by 2 per cent. But this is still considerably below the increase of over 12 per cent targeted for the full year as a whole. This contributes significantly to the better than expected headline Exchequer result.

Tax revenue, at €17,239 million, is €320 million ahead of target as strong performance under the VAT, excise duty and stamp duties offset disappointing out-turns for income taxes and corporation tax.

According to department officials, growth in demand for cars as well as stronger revenue from tobacco sales were the reasons VAT and excise duty revenues came in ahead of target.

Income tax receipts were as expected but were lower than for the same period of 2004. Corporation tax receipts were lower on both a year-on-year comparison and when compared with budgetary projections.

Some questions for the Irish government

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

Richard Waghorne recently noted the staggering statistics about China in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs:

Consider this sobering information: the most recent influenza pandemic, of 1968-69, emerged in China, when its population was 790 million; today it is 1.3 billion. In 1968, the number of pigs in China was 5.2 million; today it is 508 million. The number of poultry in China in 1968 was 12.3 million; today it is 13 billion. Changes in other Asian countries are similar. Given these developments, as well as the exponential growth in foreign travel over the past 50 years, an influenza pandemic could be more devastating than ever before.

I am very concerned about the inevitable flu pandemic that will hit the world, and based on the 1918-19 pandemic we could be in for quite a few deaths. While one can’t directly relate population figures to death rates from the 1918-19 pandemic to now, one could hazard a guess.

The population of the world in 1919 was circa 2 billion, it now stands at over 6.5 billion. Estimated deaths in 1919 were 100 million globally, but that figure could be much higher. Given the ease of travel, increases in medical technology (at least in the West where they can be implemented), and the ratio of poor to rich people in the world, what would be a fair figure to guess at for projected deaths from the next pandemic? I would hazard 500 million, but feel free to point to any studies into this.

So for those of us in the small island at the edge of Europe, what precautions have been taken? I have no idea, so I fired off an email to the NDSC:

Q. Are you aware of any specific precautionary measures the Irish government have taken with regard to a possible or indeed inevitable influenza pandemic?

Q. Are there any plans or trials to license the sale of antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir phosphate, amantadine or rimantadine?

Q. Given that zanamivir is the only licensed antiviral, have the government stockpiled this drug in any way, shape, or form?

Q. How many mechanical ventilators are there available in the Republic, and are there any stockpiled?

Q. How quickly could Ireland gain adequate numbers of vaccines in the event of an outbreak of Type A influenza?

Q. Does the Irish government have any specific emergency planning in relation to an influenza pandemic?

I will let you know how it goes.

On blogging

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

I just realised that June 2005 was my quietest month of posting since September 2003. I think I must be feeling some fatigue, in two weeks time this blog will be 3 years old.

I have noted the recent comments Richard made with regard to blogging, where he mentions me:

But it seems entirely possible that human beings have a natural limit on the amount of input sources they want on a regular basis. (Look how Blogrolls expand, and expand, then either contract, get segmented or disappear entirely.) This natural limit is temporarily inflated by novelty, but as the Signal to Noise ratio drops, we want a few sources we can trust. The very few voracious xenophiles (Gavin comes to mind) are likely quite happy to continue indefinitely.

And Jon Ihle’s comment:

I think Sullivan has the right model – and it is essentially the same model newspaper columnists adhere to: pick a few hobby horses and ride the hell out of them. He’s good ’cause he’s focused; most blogs are poor because they’re not (I think Instapundit is getting like this). Also blogging is like addictive substances: it looks way cooler to the addicts than to anyone else. One more thing: the fact that a significant portion of the Irish blogosphere is actually American makes me think that the whole phenomenon is driven largely by our particular national narcissism.

The last month or so I have been musing on what direction to go with this weblog. One result of it was establishing another one, but the workload for that even managed to exceed my exptectations (some other people blogging on it would help alot).

So where do I go? It seems more relevant as I reach the end of my third year blogging. I will be quietly musing on it, and considering in what direction to go, the template and look could do with a cleanup for starters.

Anyone any thoughts?


Monday, July 4th, 2005

Made it back down south…

Blog Party

Friday, July 1st, 2005


In case anyone who is new has trouble finding us, I will be wearing a blue shirt/brown slacks, and will be sitting or standing in the vicinity of the stairs, either at the top or bottom of them! Here is a picture of me, feel free to come up and say hi, I’ll try and introduce you to anyone else there!

Ok folks I hope you haven’t all forgotten! Dick, Jon and maybe Bernie will be there early – I should be there early too, depending on my travel time. I will post a pic of myself so that newcomers can at least recognise me and be introduced to some fellow bloggers – I will upate the original post and this post with a pic this evening!

If you are coming please drop me a mail to gavin AT gavinsblog DOT com!