Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 28 May 11 by Tatyana in Books
I finally finished reading "Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer, where he documents his quest to win the US Memory Championship (even though the quest starts out with a less ambitious goal).  It was a very easy to read and contained a lot of interesting facts. For one, I had no idea that memorization was such a big part of life in ancient times. When you think about it, it makes sense – many people didn’t know how to read and those who did couldn’t afford to own every book. But I never really thought about it.


Posted 21 May 11 by Tatyana in Books
I just finished reading "Poor Economics” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both MIT economics professors. The book was amazing and I highly recommend it. In summary, it is an excellent, evidence-based discourse about the behavior of the poor and the policies that work and don’t work to improve their lives. Abhijit and Esther cover how the poor make decision about how much to save, eat, and spend on their children’s education, why so many poor households run businesses but don’t become rich, and how political institutions can be improved.


Posted 19 May 11 by Tatyana in Verisimilitudes
I was going to start an original series on "verisimilitudes”, ideas that appear true and persist in popular or even scientific beliefs, but are actually false. When I started researching a few myths, I realized that there are already many other people out there writing up myths. So I decided to start by sharing and summarizing existing webpages debunking myths. If I run out of good stuff (what’s the probability of that on the internet?), I’ll start doing more original research.


Posted 15 May 11 by Tatyana in General
I was grading papers today and found out that Mississippi has the most bizarre set of alcohol laws of any state. Namely, you’re allowed to drive while drinking, as long as you’re not drunk. At the same time, most counties prohibit sales of alcohol on Sundays and there are many dry counties, where the possession of any alcohol is illegal.


Posted 12 May 11 by Tatyana in General

A recent study has found that women born in the spring are more likely to be anorexic than women born in the fall. You can see the results graphically here.

The authors seem quick to attribute this to gestational factors. But there are two other more plausible explanations I can think of first. One is that women who are born in the spring face more looks-based pressure in school and are more likely to develop the disorder. Perhaps being the smallest/largest/medium kid in your class has something to do with it. Second, I would be surprised if the season of birth is completely random. Some parents undoubtedly plan when they want their kid to be born. How do we know that it isn’t parental characteristics that contribute to this? It’s plausible that gestational factors affect the development of this complex disorder, but the environmental/selection factors above are way more plausible.



Posted 10 May 11 by Tatyana in Movies

Following a friend’s recommendation, I sat down and watched "Inside Job”, a 2010 documentary by Charles Ferguson about the role of the financial sector in the recession. At least that’s the neutral way of putting it. It would be more accurate to say that "Inside Job” is about how the financial sector (plus some academic and government helpers) caused the recession. The interviewer was impressive in that he seemed to succeed in annoying many of the people who disagreed with his views. I expected the movie to be more neutral, but it definitely felt more like a Michael Moore documentary than like a Discovery Channel one. That said, the line-up of people that Charles Ferguson interviewed (I assume it was him) was impressive, from John Campbell and Dominique Strauss-Kahnto Glenn Hubbard, Elliot Spitzer, and Paul Volcker.



Posted 05 May 11 by Tatyana in Science

Many people are convinced that computers will soon (everyone has their own definition of "soon”) become integrated into our bodies, pointing to the fact that some people already have medically prescribed hearing aids, pacemakers, and even brain implants. Will we soon be able to control the TV directly with our brains? We will if Intel has its way.

I wonder how such implants will be regulated. Currently, medical devices areregulated by the FDA. It would seem unfair to have non-medical implants unregulated while medical ones are. I doubt the FDA is about to stop regulating the latter. So the logical conclusion I make is that someone will step up to be the regulator in this case. Who will it be? And will this change the picture of how "soon” these technologies will emerge?



Posted 04 May 11 by Tatyana in General

The author of this one is pretty certain:

"The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

~ Carl Sagan



Posted 02 May 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I wonder how many people at this point are unaware of a semi-fake Martin Luther King Jr. quote going around the internet. In my (perhaps small) world, it’s been taking up more space than the analysis of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Here’s the quote:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Apparently, the first sentence was not said by MLK, although the latter three were. I saw a friend of mine post this quote on facebook last night and reposted it as my own status. How much did my reposting have to do with the fact that the quote was supposedly MLK’s? I have no idea, but I’d like to think that my motivations had more to do with the content than the supposed author of the quote. I’m sure that’s what the millions of other people who reposted it will say as well.

What’s REALLY amazing here is not only how quickly a previously non-existent quote spread. The fact that the quote was not authentic seems to be spreading as quickly as the quote itself. In fact, if you Google search for "MLK quote” right now, I bet you will find more mentions of the quotes non-genuineness than of the quote itself (this was not true this morning when I tried the search). If you search for the first sentence of the quote, you still get mostly people sharing the quote, but I bet that will change soon as well.

I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad signal about the internet’s power. On one hand, untruths can spread amazingly quickly when the circumstances are favorable. However, they also seem to be corrected quickly.



Posted 30 Apr 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

-- Frank Outlaw

Interestingly enough, Frank Outlaw is probably not the person who said this. From a brief internet search, I gathered that (a) there are a bunch of Frank Outlaws out there, but none is particularly famous and (b) there’s no evidence that any of them actually said this. Nevertheless, it’s a good quote.



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