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Interesting Stuffs – 8

Exciting things I learned and read during the week (4 Jan – 10 Jan) beside my current hard workload of reading papers for PhD:

1/ Why the most intelligent people love spending time alone

The article is not insightful but it may be interesting to research in terms of network and innovation.

2/ The list of best data visualization and scientific photos – 2020

Apart from working for social issue, for me, I love data visualization and creative coding. It is interesting to see how people visualize their data in an aesthetic way, but still clearly communicate the information with readers. Some of the list mentioned in the article that I think amazing

– List from Flowing Data

– List from Cartography

– List from Data Viz Today

– List from Observable

– List from Nature

3/ The coming war on the hidden algorithms that trap people in poverty

This article is definitely recommended to read. It describes how some people do not know about finance and manage their own finance, and finally stuck in debt because of an intimate partner or a family member. It explains the hidden algorithms of credit card that decide which people could borrow and how much they could borrow or their eligibility criteria. In this article, they mention the case of Miriam who married a guy named Nick and trusted him to invest and borrow things under her name. In the end, Nick was convicted as a fraud and Miriam was under a lot of debt without her knowing. Until the article is written, their divorce has not been settled yet and Nick still knows her social security number and still could open other credit card under her name and take out loans. She now decided to walk away from Nick and joins a nonprofit organization that supports survivors of coerced debt. She could take a series of class about how to manage their finances and learn more about credit algorithms.

This also happens a lot in Vietnam where I see many poor people get tricked and deceived to give their house paper to others. It is quite important to teach people about finance and credit algorithms. An initiative by the nonprofit above is meaningful to pursue and this area needs more work.

4/ Why do we feel lonely? Neuroscience is starting to find answers

This article briefly discusses how neuroscientist is working on to find the answer which cell in the brain that can link to loneliness. Instead of asking people how they feel, by measuring loneliness in the brain, this could set some light on the question is there a connection between depression and loneliness? Is that loneliness causing depression? Or depression causes loneliness?

It is interesting to see how research is help give insights in our life, and for different area which is neuroscience and I find this area also amazing and takes a lot of efforts from neuroscientists. They are truly amazing.

5/ This avocado armchair could be the future of AI

I am not an expert at AI or something, but I love seeing the idea and being amazed how people can develop AI overtime. This is an example of how AI amazes me. OpenAI has built models called DALL:E and CLIP – which transfers text to image. For example, they entered the text that might be not the things the system meet before, such as “an avocado armchair” and the results are interesting and valid like a real creativity. This may be a future of AI, where scientists can test their smart levels, not base on chatbots to imitate and mimic human’s words, but to test their creativity from some unrelated concepts.

6/ Conversations with Tyler: John O.Brennan on Life in the CIA

An interesting interview with a former CIA. In this, many things were discussed. Some of what I remember are:

– CIA officers need to balance between classified information and things to share with their family. It is hard, but it requires understanding from both sides.

– There is a CIA museum inside CIA headquarters to honor those faceness and nameless CIA officers.

– CIA officers need to analytical thinking to assess the situation by themselves. They also need to have some kinds of adapting their personalities to the field. And James Bond is amazing, but he mentions that for CIA case officer, sometimes they need someone who not stands out too much, and can blend into the crowd and the environment.

7/ Mentally Strong Person of the Week: James Altucher

This is a series of podcast, and the author also explains the strategies behind these people and how they can stay mentally strong. It is interesting for me to see how people have their own stories, struggle with things and find ways to be strong after. He has suffered from depression, however, he is vulnerable enough to openly share this with outside world, and how he copes with it.

What I learn from him:

– Generate 10 ideas per day.

There are many problems in the world, and with ourselves. If we only look at the problem we never could find the way out, and find it more depressing. So if we try to solve the problem, look at it in another way, we can take control of things happened to us.

– Perform experiments.

It is to see something we hold deeply inside, may be just wrong.

– Monitor your media consumption

Update the news, but only in sufficient information and from a trusted source. Because headlines news usually make you think that some rare events can happen to you with higher chance and make you feel anxious.

8/ Conversations with Tyler: Hal Varian on Taking the Academic Approach to Business

In this episode, Tyler talked with Hal Varian – a chief economist at Google who turned from academic to work in tech company. Their discussion is insightful, many things to learn from and worth listening to.

Some of what I learn:

– They talk about price auction, and the ad auction in Google. This is also what received Nobel Prize last year.

– They also talk about electronic journals when they are at very high price. Sci-Hub as grey market. Electronic journals – mainly their customers are libraries, meanwhile, users or individuals do not pay directly to journal, but use through their library service or Google or Sci-Hub.

– An interesting case of flower auction in the Netherlands, which is near Schiphol.

– They also talk about graduate economics text book and undergraduate economics text book where Varian wants to add more his business experiences into them, for example behavioral economics.

– Most of what he is doing in Google based on his experiences with economics. Algorithmic mechanism design is a combination between economics and computer science. “The idea is, you take the economic model, and you bring in computational costs, or show me an algorithm that actually solves that maximization problem. Then on the other side, the computer side, you build incentives into the algorithms. So if multiple people are using, let’s say, some communications protocol, you want them all to have the right incentives to have the efficient use of that protocol.”

– For building models for graduate economics, do not look into literature too soon.

– The person who works for Google should have a very strong computer skills, compared to for Berkeley.

– They also talk about economics of spamming, 5G and cryptography, why bitcoin have a fluctuate price. It is because capital controls.

– They also recommend some science fiction stories, and an interesting question came up: “Let’s say you could be sent to the past, protected against disease, with whatever languages you would need. Any previous historical era, and you would live there for six months and observe and learn. Where would you choose and why?”. Varian chooses Ancient Rome, and Cowen choose pre-conquest Mexico.

– Why Facebook is more hated than Google? Because the way Facebook collect and use personal data is not transparent.

– An advice for someone wants to take both economics and technology side that is to get the basic skills down, including coding, design and economics. But also need creativity, need to step back and see what the bigger picture is.

9/ Conversations with Tyler: Jeffrey Sachs on Charter Cities and How to Reform Graduate Economics Education

I am in a hunt for listening to podcast of conversations with Tyler. Some of the podcasts I am listening to now are with famous economists. I am also interested in how others from different fields looking at problems and solving problems. But this is a good take from an economics view. And not surprisingly, this episode is also a great one.

Some of my takes from this episode:

– They talk about the natural resource curve, especially for countries with oil resource, and Dutch disease.

– They talk about the role of institutions. Institutions matter, but not the only way to solve a problem.

– Sachs on how he disagree with the book “Why Nations Fail?”, for example, in China case, it is in a catching-up mode which is different from the institutions of being the technology leader.

– He talks about how he learn from his wife as a pediatrician. That is differential diagnosis, first to try to understand the core reasons, and second, the solution is to minimize serious risks.

– His experience with Poland case

– His disagreement with Paul Krugman in their view towards East Asia, and also Krugman’s view on UK recovery and US recovery.

– He also mentions about how robots are helping us to take care of heavy tasks, but also can lead to turmoil, massive inequalities of power and income and wealth.

– His advice on economists to work with engineers, public health, and other professions to work on the real systems of our time, something that is useful rather than to generalize things, and not look at things in details.

10/ Freakonomics podcast: How do you cure a compassion crisis?

The US Healthcare system is an ongoing debate, where patients feel lack of compassion from the doctors and nursrs, but the doctors and nurses are also suffering from being burn out. Trzeciak and Mazzarelli go on and are curious about how compassions from doctors and nurses could be both solutions for these two problems.

First, they explain the mechanism that makes compassion become beneficial. One of this is physiological, helps patients shape their perception of pain (by releasing endorphins). Many research have worked on this, however, these research suffer from small sample size. Compassion also helps with depression.

Second, compassion increase revenue and decrease cost. They find evidence that hospitals that have higher margins that have better patient experience (This can be seen in private and public hospitals in Vietnam).

They also go on and talk more about this issue, for example, in the curriculum, they’re updating with the course teaching about emphathy and compassion for future doctors and nurses, or the burn out situation of doctors and nurses in US health care, especially during covid. The ending of the post that Trzeciak shared her experience as a nurse being with her during her most difficult time at the hospital. “..there are a lot of times when the outcome is not something that can be changed. And sometimes you just need to sit with people and their suffering”.

11/ Conversations with Tyler: Nicholas Bloom on Management, Productivity, and Scientific Progress

Nicholas Bloom is a Stanford process working on management, productivity and uncertainty of firms. In this podcast, he shared with Tyler some of his work as well as how he got into academic part.

Some of my take from this podcast:

– Productivity of researchers fall by about 5 percent a year though there are much increase in inputs, because it is harder to find new ideas. And also regulation costs or COVID, and the share of funding from the Government in the US and Europe declines, and private firms have taken over. (This study is only about US)

– If looking at global R&D, it will be another story since some countries, for example, China and India, their governments are increasing expenditure on R&D. However, this might also have some issues, because knowledge spillovers are localized so ideas from China to US are less effective than within the US. Also whether the increase in Chinese and Indian R&D by their government sectors is enough to offset the reduction by the US, and whether it will be the right areas, for example for developing countries, R&D is more focused on defense and national security focused.

– US firms have better management, so they are having huge profits abroad. US firms are driven by better innovation and better management.

– IT is said to affect productivity, but productivity, in opposite, slows down, it may be because it takes time and efforts to reshape the management and organizational structures of society. He gave some examples about COVID and internet, email, skype; or about electricity and steam engine.

– Italy has suffered from brain drain. R&D performance is not great. It is not certain. It makes people go abroad and their education system is weak.

– Management consults like McKinsey are said that it is ridiculous to bring not-so-well-trained young people to come into a company and tell them what to do. However, as an outsider, it is easier for them to advise what to do based on qualitative and quantitative analysis.

– The main problem for developing countries in management that can not be scaled up is because of the law system.

– The problem with case studies in management is because of the legal things and it needs to be accepted by the people involved in the company to be published.

– They also talk about self-help books and individual management. Cowen has a very interesting question that self-help books are usually very cheap or sometimes free, so in terms of marginal value, the marginal gains to be more productive individually will not be very high. Bloom mentions that we just do not know what we don’t know so we are skeptical about advice. (Personally, I like self-help books, even though there are some negative feedbacks on self-help books, but it helps me to calm my heart and mind, and find that I can grow). Bloom also suggests a randomized control trials for this that some people get self-help books and some not, to see how it affect people.

– Working from home in 1 year may be not affect much, and even increase productivity, but if it lasts more than 1 year, it lacks of discussion and interaction to bring more creativity and research ideas, which may lead to a decrease in patents. In the future, an ideal would be to combine both ways.

– It is said the faculties from top-five universities are usually PhDs from these top-five schools. So for Bloom, he graduated from UCL, then he also had experiences with working in British Institute for Fiscal Studies, in McKinsey, before going to follow research. Basically, he did not have ideas to follow academic careers, but then also suggests that his path is quite unusual, and may be not an ideal one if ones want to follow research.

12/ How an internet lie about the Capitol invasion turned into an instant conspiracy theory

People choose to believe in things that sound nice to them, even they already witness it and even though it is a lie.

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