Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The most extraordinary detail that's actually still there is the tube. The fact that people don't look at it is proof of its efficiency, perhaps, but that aside it's the most beautiful urban public transport system anywhere outside of the former Soviet Union, and I've often taken friends around just to see specific things on the Underground—the futurism of the Jubilee Line extension, the seedy, Lavatorial art nouveau stations of Leslie Green, the themed tiles on the ‘60s Victoria Line, Paolozzi's murals at Tottenham Court Road, the capacious arches of the original 1860s cut-and-cover stations like Baker Street, the doorless trains on the East London Line extension, and most of all the interwar stations of Charles Holden, from St James' Park with its mini-skyscraper and Epstein's sculptures above, to the gorgeous little brick cathedrals of Oakwood or Sudbury Town. It's a whole city in itself, and despite the lack of loos, the privatization and the lamentable lack of solidarity shown by commuters towards tube drivers when they go on strike, sometimes I think it's a better city than the one above it—certainly a more egalitarian one.

Owen Hatherley interviewed by Nathalie Handal on Words Without Borders

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

under the hood

“You say autism, or Down syndrome, and people know somebody,” said Ms. Dopp, who stays home with Jackson and his three siblings. “When you try to explain 7q to people and they barely know what a chromosome is, it’s hard.”

via MR, here

Thursday, November 4, 2010

black swans

Andrew Gelman revisits his review of Taleb's The Black Swan.

And then there are parts of the review that make me really uncomfortable. As noted in the above quote, I was using the much-derided "picking pennies in front of a steamroller" investment strategy myself--and I knew it! Here's some more, again from 2007:

I'm only a statistician from 9 to 5

I try (and mostly succeed, I think) to have some unity in my professional life, developing theory that is relevant to my applied work. I have to admit, however, that after hours I'm like every other citizen. I trust my doctor and dentist completely, and I'll invest my money wherever the conventional wisdom tells me to (just like the people whom Taleb disparages on page 290 of his book).

Not long after, there was a stock market crash and I lost half my money. OK, maybe it was only 40%. Still, what was I thinking--I read Taleb's book and still didn't get the point!

Actually, there was a day in 2007 or 2008 when I had the plan to shift my money to a safer place. I recall going on the computer to access my investment account but I couldn't remember the password, was too busy to call and get it, and then forgot about it. A few weeks later the market crashed.

If only I'd followed through that day. Oooohhh, I'd be so smug right now. I'd be going around saying, yeah, I'm a statistician, I read Taleb's book and I thought it through, blah blah blah. All in all, it was probably better for me to just lose the money and maintain a healthy humility about my investment expertise.

Andrew was kind enough to have me to dinner (along with Jenny Davidson) while I was in New York; Andrew is probably one of the few who are more charismatic in person than in avatar (possibly because backed up by the exceptionally charismatic Caroline, Jakey and Zach). This in itself would be sufficient justification for blogging (at a purely personal level); the thing that is of real significance, though, is the fact that AG was able to write a review with self-determined word-count -- and then revisit it in light of events. Show me the paper publication that lets reviewers write a review of the review years later, at a word count dictated by developments in the world rather than by paper constraints-- I don't think so.