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Interesting stuffs – 13

Exciting things I learned and read during the week (5 Feb – 11 Feb) beside my current hard workload of PhD:

1.What the Big Mac index says about the dollar and the dong

“McDonald’s hamburger cost just $1.60 in America. Now it costs $5.65”

“In Vietnam, for example, the burger costs 69,000 dong. You can buy 69,000 dong for only $3 on the foreign-exchange market. And so a Big Mac in Vietnam works out to be 47% cheaper than in America.”

“The fact that you can buy a burger’s worth of dong for 47% less than a burger’s worth of dollars suggests the dong is undervalued.”

“Countries that might be keeping their currencies artificially cheap to boost exports and steal a competitive edge.”

2. On productive and counterproductive ways to read

“Books and articles make claims about the world. They describe the world around you. The description they offer could be true, or it could be false.”

“There are several ways to evaluate whether claims are true. One is how plausible they sound given the rest of your knowledge. But if that’s your only criteria, you’ll likely be quite resistant to changing your mind. So you should ask other questions as well. Are the arguments that are made in the text logically valid? Once you’ve determined that, you can ask whether the arguments are based on true premises. If the premises are true and the arguments are logically valid, then the arguments are sound. Often, however, a text may not give you a definitive logical argument. Instead, they may present a body of evidence. It’s worthwhile to consider the strength of that evidence. How credible are the sources the author cites? What methods do they use to gather and evaluate any empirical evidence they examine? These types of questions can help you figure out whether what you are reading is true.”

“We’re all wrong about at least some things. But we don’t know what we’re wrong about. So it’s worth asking whether what we’re reading should motivate us to change our mind.”

“But a book might also convince you to change your actions or your normative views by helping you learn something new about how the world works. For example, reading about the economics of housing may convince you that land-use regulations increase housing pricesreduce economic mobility, and substantially reduce GDP. This is a description of the world. It need not imply any normative judgement. But learning these facts may convince you that zoning laws are undesirable or that YIMBY activism is desirable.

3. See The World Through The Eyes Of A Cat

“As predators, they need to be able to sense movement well in very low light. To make that work, they have to sacrifice some of the finer detail and color perception that humans have.”

“Some of the cat-eye facts he took into account: The blurry edges of the pictures represent peripheral vision. Humans have a 20 degree range of peripheral vision on each side. Cats can see 30 degrees on each side. Their visual field overall is just bigger—they see 200 degrees compared to our 180 degrees.”

“Cat vision isn’t so great at a distance. What we can see sharply from 100 feet away, they need to see at 20 feet. From what researchers can tell, cats can see blue and yellow colors, but not red, orange or brown, which is why all the images look a little washed out.”

“Cats can see some six to eight times better than us in the dark, partially because they have more rods, a type of photoreceptor in the retina. Their elliptical pupils can open very wide in dim light, but contract to a tiny slit to protect the sensitive retina from bright light. And like other animals that evolved to hunt at night, cats have a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue that bounces light that hits the back of the eye out through the retina again for a second chance to be absorbed by the rods. It’s also what gives them those terrifying glowing eyes in pictures.”

4. Making an International Standard Cup of Tea

Make a cup of tea as an international standard – or make a reproducible cup of tea, but NOT a perfect cup of tea!

5. How U.S. Inflation Compares to Other Countries

“Many economics books would tell you that we can have demand pull, cost push, or a single cause of inflationDemand pull refers to too many dollars chasing too few goods while cost push focuses on landlabor, and /or capital rising in price. Meanwhile, the singular cause is one commodity going up in price and then rippling through the economy…like oil. More precisely, for demand, we can cite the “mismatch” between what factories have produced and what pandemic stricken consumers want. Correspondingly, on the cost side, the tangles in global supply chains have nudged production costs up. And then, to all of that we can add the chips shortage and ascending oil prices. At the same time, outside the U.S., sub-Saharan Africa has had to cope with the impact of higher energy prices on the cost of fertilizer. Similarly, The Washington Post explained that in Europe, rising energy prices are fueling inflation. In addition, a European Parliament report, cites the same phenomena that we are seeing in the U.S.– the supply snarls and skewed consumer spending.”

6. A new theory helps explain the epic mystery of bird migration

“While humans use ****compasses and GPS to improve our navigation, birds use built-in hardware. They see in color and can remember landmarks like particular trees or buildings

“What’s remarkable is that migratory birds also seem to know where they’re going even without hints from the environment, said Atticus Pinzon-Rodriguez, a researcher at Lund University”

“No matter the mechanism, scientists are sure that birds are using Earth’s magnetic field to travel.”

“While Earth’s magnetic field encompasses the entire planet, scientists suspect that humans are scrambling it locally through our electrical equipment, radio towers, and other technologies.”

“It’s not clear whether the interference is actually harming migratory birds like the Eurasian reed warbler in the wild, given that they use other tools to navigate too. But it shows just how profoundly humans impact the Earth, sometimes in invisible ways.”

7. Can a new approach to funding scientific research unlock innovation?

“Arc is “an institutional experiment in how science is conducted and funded,” Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe and one of the Institute’s funders, told me. Researchers get eight-year grants to do whatever they want, instead of three-year grants tied to a specific project.”

“The institute is also hiring for people who want to work on improving key biological research tools instead of on conducting experiments and writing papers. It’s an expensive approach that can, even at best, only solve the problems with our current system for a tiny fraction of the researchers affected by it. But its founders hope it can at least show that solutions are possible — and inspire further experimentation.”

“Watching how NIH grants were reviewed was “very eye-opening for me,” Hsu told me — and not in a good way.”

“Inclines researchers toward tackling something that they can address in a few years. But some of the most important problems in medicine will take much longer to crack.”

“A wide range of ideas have been aired for how to fix the scientific grant process, from lotteries to limiting applications to one page. There have been private attempts to do better — like FastGrants, which aimed to get out Covid-19 research money in 48 hours instead of weeks or months, and which has moved more than $50 million to date.”

“But one key thing, Collison emphasized to me, is simply having more options. There’s nothing wrong with the NIH grant process as one way that researchers can secure money for an idea. But when it’s the only way, any science that doesn’t fit neatly into the NIH process won’t get done at all.”

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