Percy's Chocolate Bars, Buffett's Money and Science's Theories

Today we learn why scientific “theory” is much different than popular conceptions of theory (hint – scientific theory is a lot closer to “truth”), billionaire and Philanthropist Warren Buffet gives us a few tips to live by, and we explore what melting chocolate bars and microwaves have in common.

Warren Buffett’s Financial Rules to Live By

The billionaire shares investment advice for average Americans.

What Theory is Not This essay describes differences between papers that contain some theory rather than no theory. There is little agreement about what constitutes strong versus weak theory in the social sciences, but there is more consensus that references,data, variables, diagrams and hypotheses are not theory. Despite this consensus, however, authors routinely use these five elements in lieu of theory. We explain how each of these five elements can be confused with theory and how how to avoid such confusion. By making this consensus explicit, we hope to help authors avoid some of the most common and easily averted problems that lead readers to view papers as having inadequate theory. (Robert Sutton, Barry M Staw)

Inventions. The microwave was invented in 1946 after research engineer, Dr. Percy Spencer, noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted while he was working near a magnetron.

Keynes, Egocentrism and Writing Creepy Crawlies

Today we learn about one of the great economists of modern economic theory, John Maynard Keynes, how our egos might be preventing us from truly understanding what people mean in emails, and how to write a web crawler to track down the world’s scariest stories — well, more like Reddit’s scariest stories, but it’s a start.

Robert Skidelsky on economist John Maynard Keynes

Political economist Robert Skidelsky has completed the third and final volume of his biography of John Maynard Keynes. It is called “John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain 1937-1946″. In it he paints a vivid portrait of this brilliant economist and his impact on economics and the world economy.

Egocentrism Over E-Mail: Can We Communicate as Well as We Think? Without the benefit of paralinguistic cues such as gesture, emphasis, and intonation, it can be difficult to convey emotion and tone over electronic mail (e-mail). Five experiments suggest that this limitation is often underappreciated, such that people tend to believe that they can communicate over e-mail more effectively than they actually can. Studies 4 and 5 further suggest that this overconfidence is born of egocentrism, the inherent difficulty of detaching oneself from one’s own perspective when evaluating the perspective of someone else. Because e-mail communicators “hear” a statement differently depending on whether they intend to be, say, sarcastic or funny, it can be difficult to appreciate that their electronic audience may not. (Justin Kruger, Nicholas Epley, Jason Parker, Zhi-Wen Ng)

Creepy Crawlies The web is full of creepy stories, with Reddit’s /r/nosleep at the top of this list. Since you’re a huge fan of not sleeping (we are programmers, after all), you need to amass a collection of creepy stories into a single file for easy reading access! Your goal is to write a web-crawler that downloads all the text submissions from the top 100 posts on /r/nosleep and puts it into a simple text-file.

Little Blue Innovators

I Think I Can

In Rebuilding the Polymath, my colleague Steve Spalding and I identified three key challenges potential innovators face: a lack of time, a lack of capital, and a lack of technical skills. One solution we have devised to solve these problems is ProjectMONA. Today, we are launching another, one that focuses on the third hurdle.

Let’s survey the current situation. Many ideas – good ideas, ideas worth doing- are best built as software. For some of these ideas, off-the-shelf solutions are more than enough. For others, nothing short of custom, low-level embedded system code will do. But a sizable number of ideas worth doing fall somewhere in between and creating them amounts to little more than building a custom web form, a small API, or a few functions.
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Evolution of a Thesis

In the opening pages of Iain M Bank’s novel the Hydrogen Sonata we are introduced to Vyr Cossant, a member of a roughly humanoid race known as the Gzilt. A people who we rapidly learn are just under 23 days away from Subliming. For those not familiar with Bank’s mythology, Subliming is a process where sufficiently advanced civilizations step off the cosmic stage and enter a deliciously poorly defined higher plane of existence never (or almost never) to return again.

The not returning bit is the important part, as the Gzilt have this custom of taking on a “life task”. This task could be almost anything, and for Vyr Cossant it is to learn to play the Hydrogen Sonata perfectly. The Hydrogen Sonata, more completely called, The 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented, is an amazingly difficult and amazingly ugly piece of music that can only be properly played on the Antagonistic Undecagonstring — also known as the elevenstring. The elevenstring, unfortunately, can only be fully mastered if one has four arms. Vyr, only having two at her disposal, is quick to have herself augumented to meet this requirement, much to the frustration of her deeply fashion conscious mother, who is well aware that as the Subliming approaches, all good Gzilt are avoiding such drastic physical alterations.
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On Universities and Bowling Leagues (Ep 2)

Based on a call recorded between Steve Spalding and James Gibson on 2/12/2013, click here to download the full call.]

There is a big difference between your University and your Bowling League. It’s a distinction that we try really hard to keep in mind here at ProjectMONA and one that represents the core of what this conversation was about.

A University is a massive network, containing thousands upon thousands of people who are loosely tied together around the banner of an institution. Your loyalty to the group is the same kind of loyalty you might show to a nation, a religion or any other high-minded idea, it’s the loyalty of shared purpose. You neither know nor necessarily care about the other members of the group as individuals, what you care about is the fact that you can be pretty sure that at some superficial level, at least,they share some of the same values that you do.
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On the Importance of Slow Content (Ep 1)

Based on a call recorded between Steve Spalding and James Gibson on 1/22/2013, click here to download the full call

For a group of people committed to the idea of recording every conversation they ever have and posting them wholesale on the Internet, we are surprisingly interested in slow content and this conversation digs deeply into the nuts and bolts of why. Actually, this conversation is mostly me rambling on for 30 minutes about everything and nothing while James does his best to sound interested, but word salad aside it does dip its toes into a few important points.

The Internet gives us many things, and it gives them to us very quickly. Unfortunately, our poor meat brains are evolved to deal with a world measured in minutes, months and years and not nanoseconds. As a result, 50 blogs posts, 10 podcasts and 100 YouTube videos a day tax our extraordinarily limited supply of attention and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for us to process any one piece of information to any degree of subtlety.
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ProjectMONA: How This Works

(This email went out to the initial members of ProjectMONA)

Welcome to ProjectMONA and thank you, thank you so very much for participating as our founding group of members.

We want to make this a great experience for you, and this email is to give you a bit of information about how this all is going to work.

Step One: Ideas

Ultimately this network is about doing things, to that end, I am going to ask one and only one thing of you right off the bat — I want you all to send me an email (or reply to this one) of a project idea that you are passionate about. Something that you wish existed, wish was better promoted, or generally want to see made. This could be a product, service, device, startup, foundation, piece of research, magazine, book, whatever. The point is that all of us have something that we wish we had the time, skills or money to stitch together, and I want to know what that thing is for you. If you are currently working on that project, describe it for us, and give us an idea of what you think it needs to be taken to the next step.
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Introducing the Polymath

The first working airplane was built by a pair of brothers who knew next to nothing about the air, and nothing at all about planes. The Wright brothers, the most famous duo of aviation to ever grace the skies were bike makers and small time tinkerers, a couple of guys who just so happened to have the insight that some of the same principles that allowed their customers to ride a bike without falling flat on their faces would allow a person to pilot a plane without meeting a much more unpleasant end.

This got me thinking about problems and how we solve them.

Well, sort of…
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