Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How to Bootstrap Education

I read recently an article (link here) in The Economist about behavioural economics and how it can be applied in development policies. The main point of behavioural economics is to challenge the assumption of classical economics that people always make rational decisions that are best for them. There are many reasons for people not to take the best decision for them: peer pressure, impulse or rushing to take a decision and so on. This approach to economics turns out to be very successful and it is now incorporated in many other theories. The development programs like the ones funded by the World Bank now take into account behavioural aspects when designing their policies. One good example is education. We know for sure how important is education to boost a child's chances to be successful in life. So many people invest heavily in the education of their children. But exactly the poorest people many times miss this point and neglect or sometimes are even against the education of  their children. So to give them a chance to escape poverty you have to actually design some incentives to make sure children actually go to school and learn something. I recently heard about two such programs in Romania:
- one is aiming to get every 3-5 years old child from poor families to attend kindergarten by giving to families a monthly stipend on the condition that the children do actually go to kindergarten. You can read more details here.
- the second is called Teach for Romania and aims to recruit, train and send teachers to impoverished communities; the training focuses on education techniques, but also on leadership, so that those teachers would also change the schools and communities where they will be teaching.

I like both these programs and from what I read they achieved a lot already, so I'll try to support them as much as I can in the future. This is one of the reasons I wrote this post: to let you know about them :)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Over in the Meadow

Lately I became a big consumer of a new music genre, children songs :) Like in every area there are good pieces and also some others that are not that well made. But there are also masterpieces like the one below. The song, the orchestration, the voices and the cartoons, all of them are excellent in this video from Barefoot Books. And I'm not the only one in the family who likes it :) Well done, guys!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fruits from Moldova

Have you bought recently any fruits from Moldova? Or fruit juices or fruit preservers?
Here is why you should:

In most of the shopping centers from Romania there are stands which sell juices and preserves from Moldova, go ahead and try them, they are very tasty.
This is cover power square (CP^2), not only a cover, but with a clever and powerful message, so let's share the original clip too:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In fiecare zi

I don't listen often hip-hop music, but this song is addictive, I listen it "every day" (that's the name of the song) since I heard it on the radio. The bottom line is that you have to be careful when you buy cherries :)

Saturday, August 22, 2015


A few weeks ago we were in the car and we listened to a song on the radio.We didn't pay much attention, but the chorus caught our attention, it was something with: "abididou". Later on I remembered about that song and I tried to find it on the internet with no luck. There were too many songs with blah-blah lyrics and I didn't have any other clue about what to search for. So I gave up and I waited for the next time I would hear the song on the radio. I should pay attention to the lyrics so I can identify it later on. And that happened one day, I heard it again on the radio. It was totally different than what I expected, the singer was saying in fact "I'd leave it all" :)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Playful Parenting

I always liked to play, even when I was at school or afterwards in my adult life, I found learning or doing something is always easier when playing with/around/about it. So when someone gave me this book about Playful Parenting I thought that this is what I wanna do with my child. The book is much more than a list of games, the author is a psychologist and explains how you can approach various difficult situations like getting close, communicating feelings, confronting fears through playing. Or you can simply explore the world and consume some energy :)

So if you want to be part of the most important part of your kid's life, her playing, and enjoy yourself while doing it go ahead and read this book. You can find more resources on this topic on the author's website here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Common People

Common People from Pulp is one of my favorite songs from my student years. At that time I did not care too much about the lyrics of a song, as there were no sites with song lyrics yet and I was not very good at English, but I remember that part about seeing cockroaches on the wall which resonated well with a resident of Grozavesti :D Recently I found out this song was based on a real story, but the author would not tell who that Greek girl was. However, some journalists investigated who could have met the guy from Pulp when he was in college and they found that the most likely person is the wife of the current Minister of Finance from Greece (the story is here). Isn't it ironic? :) The socialist Greek politician who goes at E.U. official meetings like a rebel and wants to free Greeks from the evil troika is married with the girl loaded with money who wanted to live like common people. I guess an option would be to donate her money to the state to pay off some of the debts of Greece and then they could truly live like common people.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Libertarians in Action

Libertarianism covers many movements according to Wikipedia, but what I mean by this term is what Wikipedia defines as anarcho-capitalism: the political theory that all problems of human society are best resolved by market forces. So they want nothing more than to abolish the state and leave the market to take care of everything: from schools to health care and from defense and police to the justice system. These ideas originate from the group of economists known as Austrian School, like Mises and Hayek. The Austrian School had important contributions to the development of economics, refuting the marxist theory that was very popular in Europe at that time. For example they developed the subjective theory of value opposed to the labour theory of value proposed by Marx. They also predicted that implementing Marx's ideas will lead people to misery and dictatorship, but few people listened to them. We had to learn it the hard way, after 50 years of communism. However, libertarians took these ideas to the other extreme, idealizing the market forces in every aspect of our life. This is even more bizarre to me since even Hayek, the most recognized economist of this school, acknowledged in his works that there are situations of market failures, or other motives like moral grounds which legitimate the existence and intervention of the state.

I met once such a group, they were organizing a seminar discussing libertarian authors. They were very passionate about their ideas and would not consider any counter-argument. I remember somebody cheering the situation in Somalia on a forum, saying that the collapse of the state there 10 years ago will let people develop better since there will be only market forces at play. My reaction to this was to propose them to go on an inhabited island and build there the society they dreamed of. Recently I found that somebody did try to do exactly this. Not on an island (it's hard sometimes to eat your own dog food), but on the internet. This guy created an online marketplace, called Silk Road, using only encrypted connections so people cannot be traced. He wanted to seal this market from any possible government intervention, following the true spirit of libertarianism. And guess what trade flourished on this market: drugs, of course. It took FBI a couple of years to penetrate and dismantle this network. You can read the fascinating story on how Silk Road raised and fell in Wired in two parts here and here. A few days ago the creator of this market was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He is not at large anymore...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New Voices in Romanian Music

I was challenged today at work to name some new Romanian singers or bands that make good music and here is what I came with:
Note that I don't actively follow what's new on the music scene, this is just what I picked up by listening to the radio now and then. Radio Guerrilla used to promote new Romanian bands, but since they closed there was a gap in my knowledge on this topic. Luckily the team from that station regrouped in two other radios, some of them at Gold FM and others at Tananana Radio. I recently started listening to these new stations, so I might pick up new bands. Until then let's listen to the song dedicated by Toulouse Lautrec to Radio Guerrilla, "Nu se termina asa" ("It Doesn't End Like This"):

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Origins of Music Videos

I saw recently on Facebook a post about what is called the first Romanian music video. This was done for the famous song "Andrii Popa" by Phoenix, see below:

 By music video I mean a video telling a story together with the song, not just a recoding of the singer or band performing the song. I was curious to see how this special form of art appeared and I found some interesting facts. For example, Beatles were overwhelmed by requests to perform in TV shows, so they started recording performances for TV, which they sent to many stations. They got the idea to make them more fun by adding other types of videos apart from them just playing the song. An example is this video clip for their song "Help!":

On the other side of the world, in Australia, there were no that many bands willing to travel there in the seventies, so they made TV shows where they started doing collages to show while playing new songs on TV. They also starting producing video clips for local bands, like AC/DC, like this one for "Jailbreak":

The guy doing this work realized the potential of this new form of art and quit his job to become a director of video clips. Then MTV appeared and this business exploded, the rest is history :)
I found some of the information from this Wikipedia article on Music video, you can find more interesting details there.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Save Our Songbirds

Ciocarlia is a songbird found in many places in Romania. Here is a short video capturing its beautiful song.

It is also a famous Romanian song which was played by artists like George Enescu on the violin or Gheorghe Zamfir on the pan flute.

If you liked what you saw so far, here comes the bad news: too many (hundreds of thousands) of these songbirds are hunted every year and a new law was passed that will make even easier to hunt these birds (check some more details here). Some people started a campaign to stop this law. They made a powerful spot and initiated a petition that can be signed here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Smart Phone Is Taking Over

When smart phones appeared first on the market I was not impressed. Ok, I saw you can use them as a mini-computer to browse on the net, read your emails or chat on the go, but apart from this I didn't see any killer app that would make my life easier. I'm not into gaming, I'm not into photography, so having two cameras or a processor that can run whatever game was not touching me at all. The first application that convinced me to buy such a phone was Google Maps (or any other maps) combined with GPS capability. I didn't have a GPS at that time, but I was considering buying one, so when I found that I can do the same thing with a phone I just bought the phone. The smart phone just killed an entire market of GPS devices, their only niche at this moment are the car companies where they can get deals to pre-instal their devices.
Now and then I find an application that can really help me with some task. If you go to a baby expo you will see countless of systems to track your baby if she sleeps in another room for example. Not needed anymore, there are application for your phone like Baby Monitor which can do the same thing and call another phone if your child starts crying in the middle of the night. Two days ago I was in line at the pharmacy and as usually I didn't have the fidelity card which gives you some discount with me. The man behind me at the queue told me that there is an application (VirtualCards which is tailored for the Romanian market, but there are others too) where you can store all your cards. It generates the same bar code as the one on the card and you can scan your phone instead of the actual card. Bang, you don't have to carry all those cards with you, the phone will suffice.
So if you know other cool applications for the phone let me know, I'm interested in simplifying my daily routine :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cheryl's Birthday

People are talking on the internet about a problem given at a math contest in Singapore, the problem even has a name now, "Cheryl's Birthday". Some were shocked that such a problem was given to 11 years old students (in fact it was given to 15 years old children), but actually there is nothing that would prevent a 4th or 5th grade student to solve it. You need to know only basic logic operations, nothing more, so it is reasonable for an 11 years old child who is good at math to solve such a problem. |Actually when I was in 4th grade I started attending a math circle at  my school and we were doing exactly this kind of problems. I remember even today how happy I was when I solved one of the first of those logic problems and of course I remember that problem too: There was a kingdom having capital punishment. Before execution each convicted person was allowed to appear in front of the king and say a statement. If the statement was false he would be beheaded and if the statement was true he would be hanged. How can a man escape execution in these circumstances?

Many years after I was attending a job interview in Bucharest. It was in those years when people found out that Google and Microsoft gave logic problems at interviews and the fashion spread to other companies. They gave me one problem which I solved and then they gave me a second one which I knew from the math circle. They asked me where do I know it and when I told them that I know it from the 4th grade and I used to solve this kind of problems every week they decided to skip that part of the interview :)

Now don't imagine that I attended some privileged private school. I was raised in Mangalia, a small town in communist Romania, and I went to the nearest school from my house which was still half an hour walk. It was the dedication of some passionate math teachers (Mr. Dinu, Craciunescu and Henny) who were willing to spend their week-ends teaching some extra hours of math for free to some little kids like me and many others. You know, I have to thank them once again here for their effort.

Thursday, April 02, 2015


De 15 ani de zile Mazare distruge Constanta, orasul in care am crescut: a retrocedat fraudulos o gramada de teren prin toate cotloanele din oras, apoi a dat cele mai aberante autorizatii de constructie. Blocuri noi inghesuite pe peticele de spatiu verde dintre blocurile existente, mall construit in singurul parc adevarat din oras (inca se mai vad cioturile copacilor taiati in parcarea acelui mall) si toate constructiile de pe zona verde dintre lac si sosea din Mamaia. Plus lasarea in ruina a monumentelor istorice din oras, Cazinoul fiind doar cel mai cunoscut dintre ele. Alte cladiri declarate monument au fost lasate pur si simplu sa se prabuseasca pentru ca nu avea dreptul legal sa le demoleze si sa construiasca altceva acolo. Iar mai nou a inceput sa distruga si plajele din oras cu a lui fantasmagorica sosea de coasta. Si in timpul asta omul a furat de a rupt, probabil sute de milioane de euro.

Asa ca dintre toti politicienii anchetati de DNA (are 3 dosare pana acum) el este cel pe care vreau cel mai mult sa il vad in puscarie. Cand a fost retinut acum cateva saptamani am baut un pahar de rom pentru asta si o sa beau inca unul astazi caci a primit mandat de arestare pentru 30 de zile (vezi aici stirea). Si o sa mai beau inca unul cand o sa fie condamnat in prima instanta si inca unul cand va fi condamnat definitiv si tot asa. Si nu beau orice pentru asta, ci un rom din cel mai fin, Takamaka Bay din Seychelles, pentru ca el nu o sa mai mearga prin Madagascar si Brazilia mult timp de acum incolo, iar eu o sa ma plimb pe unde vreau :)

Update: ca sa fie si cu cantec o sa pun si o interpretare a ariei Libiamo din opera Traviata care da titlul acestui post :)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Despre religie, stiinta si scoala

S-a discutat mult in ultimele saptamani pe tema orelor de religie in scoli. Desi am ajuns tarziu la masa discutiilor, o sa abordez si eu aceasta problema, dar dintr-un unghi putin diferit. In contextul acestei discutii am aflat ca acum cativa ani Ministerul Educatiei a scos teoria evolutiei a lui Darwin din programa scolara la presiunile BOR. Ba mai mult, adeptii bisericii vorbesc de o teorie alternativa, creationismul, si spun ca eventual ar trebui studiate amandoua in paralel, sau lasa optiunea profesorului ce teorie sa prezinte la clasa. Dar nu toate teoriile sunt nascute egale si tocmai despre asta o sa vorbesc mai departe. Epistemologia esta ramura filosofiei care studiaza natura cunoasterii stiintifice, iar una din cele mai mari contributii pe aceasta tema este cartea Objective Knowledge a lui Karl Popper. Ca mai toate cartile de filosofie, e scrisa intr-un limbaj arid, dar ideile principale sunt pana la urma simple si de bun simt (imi amintesc ca discutam acum cativa ani cu cineva despre aceasta carte si am ajuns la concluzia ca ar trebui sa fie lectura obligatorie pentru oricine pretinde ca are de-a face cu stiinta).

Pe scurt Popper sustine urmatoarele:
- cunoasterea umana e formata exclusiv din teorii; de exemplu daca acum e noapte, faptul ca eu ma astept ca in cateva ore sa rasara soarele din nou e o teorie, s-ar putea sa se intample asa sau nu;
- nicio teorie despre lumea din jur nu poate fi demonstrata astfel incat sa fim siguri ca e adevarata. Practic nu putem fi siguri de nimic pe lumea asta, nici macar de moarte si taxe :) 
- o teorie poate fi insa infirmata prin observarea unor fapte care o contrazic; de exemplu, daca teoria mea e ca soarele rasare in fiecare zi la 6 si maine soarele rasare la 7 atunci teoria mea va fi infirmata;
- practic natura cunoasterii umane e negativa, nu pozitiva; fiecare din noi vine cu tot felul de teorii, iar multe dintre ele sunt aruncate la gunoi pe masura ce realitatea le contrazice; sau rafinate, cum este cazul cu teoria lui Einstein despre gravitatie care de fapt o imbunatateste pe cea a lui Newton pe aceeasi tema (care, de exemplu, prezicea gresit orbita planetei Mercur); cred ca chiar acest exemplu cu teoria gravitatiei a fost sursa de inspiratie pentru aceasta carte a lui Popper;
- o teorie stiintifica e o teorie pe baza careia putem face predictii pe care le putem verifica. Aici se despart apele de fapt intre stiinta si religie, magie, filosofie si orice altceva care emite pareri despre lumea asta. Ca sa nu ziceti ca am ceva cu religia, o dau un exemplu din filosofie. Exista un curent filosofic care sustine ca tot ce ni se intampla noua e de fapt un vis. Oamenii astia nu pot fi combatuti cu nimic, daca il ciupesti de mana si il doare el o sa spuna ca de fapt viseaza ca il doare si tot asa. Din moment ce teoria asta nu face nicio predictie care poate fi infirmata despre ce s-ar putea intampla maine ea nu poate fi combatuta.

Asta e de fapt marea problema cu ce se intampla in scoala romaneasca. Acum, fiecare e liber sa creada ce vrea si in ce vrea, dar atunci cand vorbim despre materiile care tin de stiinte e aberant sa punem pe picior de egalitate o teorie stiintifica, cum e cea a evolutiei, cu una pe care nu o putem combate in niciun fel, caci sustine ca orice s-ar intampla maine e vointa divinitatii.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Interzicerea fumatului in spatiile publice inchise

Astazi Senatul a adoptat un proiect de lege pentru interzicerea totala a fumatului in toate spatiile publice inchise (aici e stirea). Mi se pare o initiativa bine venita, avand in vedere ca actuala lege practic nu functioneaza. Acum e permis fumatul in anumite conditii in baruri si restaurante, precum si amenajarea in alte locuri a unor camere speciale pentru fumat. Barurile si restaurantele cu suprafata sub 100 de metri patrati pot opta sa fie de fumatori sau nefumatori, iar localurile mai mari de aceasta suprafata sunt obligate sa aiba o sectiune de nefumatori care sa fie complet separata de cea de fumatori. In plus sunt stipulate reguli de ventilatie pentru spatiile in care se fumeaza.

In practica se intampla altceva de fapt:
- in mall-uri cafenelele in care se fumeaza comunica direct cu restul coridoarelor si fumul se simte cand treci prin dreptul lor;
- am fost recent pe aeroportul Otopeni si  una din camerele pentru fumat avea usa deschisa; in mod curios chiar langa acea camera era un loc de joaca pentru copii, asa am ajuns noi pe acolo;
- la Hollywood Multiplex din Mall Vitan au o camera pentru fumat care de asemenea era cu usa deschisa cand am fost pe acolo; am inchis usa, dar unul din angajatii cinematografului care fuma inauntru a deschis-o imediat la loc;
- majoritatea restaurantelor in care am fost nu camere separate pentru nefumatori, doar precizeaza ceve de genul: la mesele din partea cutare nu se fumeaza; o exceptie notabila e Trattoria Il Calcio; toate locatiile lor in care am fost chiar au camere separate pentru nefumatori si nu trebuie sa treci prin zona de fumatori ca sa ajungi acolo; sunt singurii pe care ii stiu care respecta legea pe bune;
- in cantina la care mananc la serviciu a inceput sa se fumeze intr-o parte la un moment dat; asa ca am fost nevoiti sa nu mai mancam acolo, ci sa ne luam mancarea la pachet;

In 2009 Comisia Europeana a adoptat o recomandare ca statele membre sa-si protejeze cetatenii complet de la expunerea la fumul de tigara in spatiile publice inchise. Tarile membre trebuiau sa implementeze in cel mult 3 ani aceasta recomandare, deci practic Romania este expusa unor sanctiuni in acest moment pentru neimplementarea acestor recomandari. Un raport publicat in 2013 mentioneaza ca desi toate statele au legi anti-fumat, aplicarea lor lasa de dorit in unele state membre. Exceptiile din legile nationale (cum sunt cele de care am vorbit mai sus) fac legile respective dificil de aplicat. Pentru mai multe detalii consultati aceasta pagina pe tema spatiilor publice fara fum mentinuta de Directoratul pentru Sanatate si Securitate Alimentara.

Din cate am citit in Senat a fost o opozitie destul de vocala la aceasta lege, deci probabil vor urma dezbateri aprinse si in Camera Deputatilor. Asa ca daca iti pasa de aceasta tema ar fi bine sa ii scrii deputatului care te reprezinta pentru a sustine aceasta lege.

Update: din pacate stirea citata mai sus e o pacaleala, legea adoptata interzice complet fumatul doar in scoli, spitale si alte institutii publice, nu si in restaurante si baruri. Eu voi milita in continuare pentru interzicerea completa a fumatului in toate spatiile publice inchise.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Uber in Bucharest

I saw it all over the news yesterday: Uber launched its service in Bucharest. People are debating now if this is a good choice or not, so here is what information I found so far from a client's perspective.

Good points:
- Uber drivers are required to have a clean judiciary history and clean traffic violations history; cars should be newer than 10 years and insured; 
- from the application you can see the driver's photo, his rating and the registration number of the car;
- once you set your start point and the end point you get an estimated fee for the trip you plan to do;
- the payment is done automatically from your card and you don't ever tip the driver;
- you can rate the drivers, but the driver can rate you too, so behave :)

Questionable points:
- I would have liked Uber to ask also for the maintenance records of the car; you may have a newer car, but if you never check your brakes... This may be an issue in Romania where I still see many cars on the street which do not look well maintained; I think regular taxi drivers are required by law to check their car every 6 months, so even if they skip some tests the basic systems of the car should be in reasonable state;
- you have to put all your card details in the application (including CVV2 code) and they store in their database; this leaves you exposed in case their database is ever hacked; somebody mentioned that card companies say it is forbidden for a trader to store the CVV2 code of your card;
- I'm not sure what happens if you are stuck in traffic, do they have a waiting fee like regular taxis?
- can you change the route from the one computed by the application? for example if you know a less congested one;
- I understand Uber takes a cut from the fee (5%-20%); do they pay taxes in Romania for their profits? do the drivers pay taxes for the money they make? If the drivers have to file by themselves a form to the tax authorities to declare this income I'm sure nobody will ever pay taxes on the money they get;
- the minimum fee is 6 RON and if you cancel an order before getting into the car you will still pay the minimum fee;
 - for now the reported fees are slightly bigger then the ones of regular taxis, but the price may decrease as more drivers join the system; and supposedly you get a better service;

Two more issues you have to pay attention to: if there are big events like soccer games or rock concerts the fees will probably increase because Uber has an algoritm which automatically increases the fee if the demand is high in a particular area like in this case. Make sure you put the correct destination address; if you put another city by mistake you may end up with a $900 bill like in this case.

Overall I think the idea of the Uber service is good, but let's see how the execution looks like. I don't like that the number of taxi licenses are limited by the local authorities, this interferes with the free market for no good reason. But some regulation is needed in this area in order to make people feel safe when they take a ride in the city.

Update: I found out that they also have a waiting fee, similar to the one that taxis have;

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bring Them Down

"Pune-i la pamant" (Bring Them Down) is a song by La Familia (The Family - a Romanian hip-hop band) which was released in 2005, the same year when the DNA (National Anti-corruption Directorate) was created by Monica Macovei and Daniel Morar was named the chief of this agency. They immediately started investigating important corruption cases (not small fishes like the former anti-corruption agency used to do). I remember listening to this song in my car, together with the news of corruption investigations by DNA. I was wondering at that time if they would manage to finalize those cases and get some big fishes in jail. Ten years after it turns out they just did that big time: 13 former ministers (including one former prime-minister), countless members of the parliament, mayors (from all political parties), judges, prosecutors, police and army officers, university professors, physicians, media moguls, soccer referees and business men that got rich from deals with the government, all of them convicted for corruption and serving time in jail. Probably they didn't totally destroy the "mafia" system that took over Romania after the fall of communism, but DNA (one of the most trusted institutions in Romania today) scared them badly for sure. And they will continue to do so for the next years as they now target also confiscating the wealth that cannot be proven to come from licit activities. So, let's listen this song again, from a new perspective :)

UPDATE: two articles appeared in the international press today covering the activity of National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) from Romania. Here is the one on BBC and here the one on The Economist. I'm not sure if they read this post before, I don't see any reference to hip-hop there :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What If Schrödinger's Cat Meows?

While playing with my cat last night it hit me this question: what would happen if the cat in Schrödinger's thought experiment was meowing? You would know if the cat is dead or alive because the meowing would stop. Or maybe you will be in the same superposition with the cat inside the box and you will both hear the meowing and not hear it. Well, technically hearing the meowing is observing that system, so the assumptions of the experiment are not met. But the real question is how well can you isolate such a complex system (you know that cats are complex animals, they can love and hate you :)) from the environment in order to do such an experiment like the one Schrödinger proposed? I googled this and I found a similar question on a physics forum here. It turns out that if a system interacts with its environment (and we are talking not only about meowing, think about gravity influences as the weight of a cat is significant by quantum mechanics standards) then the quantum superposition collapses to only one of the possible options (the term used in physics is quantum decoherence) and you don't have that limbo of a cat that is both dead and alive anymore.
This is the nice part of thought experiments: you don't need to hurt anybody, you just need to think really hard a and you will eventually find your answer :)

P.S. I have to remember to write on how I found out that communism is bullshit via a thought experiment years ago. Remember how many lives were destroyed for this idea, only to learn it the hard way that communism is crap. And some still believe in it...

Friday, January 30, 2015

Global Warming and the One Percent Doctrine

You know how the weather goes: sometimes is sunny, sometimes it rains and sometimes you have extreme weather like heat waves or snow storms. What puzzles me is that even educated people (who understand what statistics means) keep saying that global warming is a hoax and they give as examples a cold snap or a rainy week in Bucharest. Well, a few days ago NASA published their annual report about global temperatures which states that 2014 was the warmest year on record.
In the book I read recently "That Used to Be U.S." (see my earlier post) the author talks about the 1% doctrine elaborated by Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the United States. This was in the context of preventing terrorist activities in the aftermath of 9/11 and is sounds like this: "Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It's not about 'our analysis,' as Cheney said. It's about 'our response.' … Justified or not, fact-based or not, 'our response' is what matters. As to 'evidence,' the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn't apply."
It is debatable if this is a reasonable way to act when arresting or killing people, but the analogy that Thomas Friedman makes is that we should apply this doctrine when dealing with global warming and climate change: if there is even a 1% probability that climate change will drastically affect our life and society then we should act as if this is a certainty. This is what all naysayers on this subject should understand. This will make much easier our collective action.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

That Used to Be U.S.

"That Used to Be U.S." (or us, as the authors mean it both ways) is a sobering chronicle of the state of the union. But the issues they describe in this book equally apply to any country in fact. In order to be successful nowadays a country needs to have a good education system, to keep the talented people around, to have a functional political system and leaders which are interested in the common good and not in special interests. And the leaders of a country have thorny issues to tackle these days: from budget deficits (which in fact means borrowing money today which will be paid back by our children) to energy issues and environmental issues like pollution and global warming. The book is well documented and has a first part where the authors diagnose the current American society and a second part where they give their opinions and some ideas about how to fix these issues.
So if you care about what happens in the world around you, go ahead and read this book on the American use case.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Imitation Game

I first heard about Alan Turing in my second year of college when I studied the Turing machine, a computational model invented by him. We also studied 4 other computational models developed independently by other people (for example λ-calculus), but it turns out all of them are equivalent. Turing machines are widely used for different proofs because this model has the most intuitive definition. It's amazing when you realize that every computer that we use nowadays it's in fact a Turing machine (well, apart from quantum computers which are a different beast, but are still quite far from doing significant work). Besides the theoretical work that he did in computer science, Turing contributed a great deal to the war effort in the Second World War by building a machine which broke the Enigma code used by Germans to encript their communication. This helped the allies to find many of their secrets from movement of troops or the routes attacked by U-boats. "The Imitation Game" tells the story of Turing and his team of cryptographers. I didn't see the movie yet, but I saw it has good reviews and I recognized in the trailer some actors I like: Sherlock and the new prosecutor from The Good Wife. Not to mention Keira :)