Malcolm Gladwell on the financial crisis

Yet another excellent speech from Malcolm Gladwell given at High Point University, see This time on

  1. Financial crisis of 2007–08
  2. Battle of Chancellorsville between General Lee and Joe Hooker during the American Civil War in 1863
  3. Overconfidence and miscalibration, results from Stuart Oskamp (Overconfidence in Case-Study Judgments)

His speech keeps the listener in suspense the whole time. He starts with the financial crisis, then he stashes this theme for a moment to start a story on the American Civil war, its protagonists, its setting, stash this once again, then talk on miscalibration. Now with this topic explained, he gets back to the civil war, and then to the financial crisis.

Here are some of the other characters, events, and phenomena he references:

  1. Military intelligence
  2. James Cayne, last CEO of Bear Stearns
  3. William D. Cohan‘s interview with Cayne

Some noteworthy quotes:

Miscalibration refers to the difference between how good you really are, and how good you think you are. (…) Miscalibration is how experts screw-up. (…) Incompetence are mistakes made by people who don’t know enough, but overconfidence are mistakes made by people who know a lot.

And one quote which can easily be remembered:

Incompetence is the disease of idiots, overconfidence is the disease of experts. (…) Incompetence annoys me, overconfidence terrifies me.

See also Malcolm Gladwell: Don’t go to Harvard, go to the Lousy Schools!, and Malcolm Gladwell on the importance of stubbornness.

Malcolm Gladwell on the importance of stubbornness

A very interesting speech of Malcolm Gladwell on stubbornness in below YouTube video.

He makes references to

Also see Malcolm Gladwell’s article on the Flynn effect: What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race.

Average daily commuting time in Europe and the U.S.

Below chart is taken from Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox, August 2004, page 30. The data is per 2000/2001.


The above document links these numbers with reported satisfaction with life — longer commuting times means less happiness.

Numbers change over time. Five year later the U.S. halved their commuting time. This sparks some questions on the reliability of the data. See chart in Average Daily Commuting Time, European and North American Countries, 2005 (in minutes), data from OECD.

A breakdown according profession can be found in Which Professions Have the Longest Commutes?

Average Commute Time by Occupation Type

Data is from 2014.

Turning 50 – Now What?

I turned 50 this year. So what was up this half century of life?

Half of my life I was educated in school and university.

I traveled through a couple of western European countries, like Spain, Portugal, Austria, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, either privately or sent by my employer. I traveled to USA, Israel, and Mexico.

I witnessed when the Soviet Union collapsed, when Mikhail Gorbachev was celebrated as a superstar in Germany, most notably in West-Germany. When he traveled through West-Germany newspapers printed their headlines in russian, people were cheering at him like a prophet.

Continue reading

7-Day Week, 6-Day Week, 5-Day Week, Soviet Calendar

In the year 2010 I read Martin Varsavsky’s blog entry on The 6 Day Week by Carlos Varsavsky. In this post Martin Varsavsky states his father, born in 1933, proposed the 6-day week, i.e., work 4 days and rest 2 days. To cope for the reduced productivity, it is proposed to interleave the 6-day week for different groups of people in the country. Continue reading

How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang

Comparing the academic industry with a rather disparate industry, thereby highlighting a number of shortcomings of the current situation in academia.

Also see Marcio von Muhlen: We Need a Github of Science, documenting the “Profzi”-scheme.


Alexandre Afonso

In 2000, economist Steven Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh published an article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics about the internal wage structure of a Chicago drug gang. This piece would later serve as a basis for a chapter in Levitt’s (and Dubner’s) best seller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.) The title of the chapter, “Why drug dealers still live with their moms”, was based on the finding that the income distribution within gangs was extremely skewed in favor  of those at the top, while the rank-and-file street sellers earned even less than employees in legitimate low-skilled activities, let’s say at McDonald’s. They calculated 3.30 dollars as the hourly rate, that is, well below a living wage (that’s why they still live with their moms). [2]

If you take into account the risk of being shot by rival gangs, ending up in jail or…

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Malcolm Gladwell: Don’t go to Harvard, go to the Lousy Schools!

Malcolm Gladwell held a speech at Google Zeitgeist Americas 2013 about drop-out rates in schools, especially in math and science. It turns out that going to one of the top universities is rarely a good idea, contrary to popular belief.

Some quotes:

  • EICD – elite institution cognitive disorder
  • Your chance of graduating with a STEM degree from Maryland is 30% higher than it would be from Harvard.

He cites a paper by John P. Conley and Ali Sina Onder (mistakenly copied as John Connelly and Allie Under in the transcript).

Transcript is in Malcolm Gladwell: Zeitgeist Americas 2013.

Addendum 28-Nov-2013: Alexandre Afonso: Do good universities teach better, or do they just select better students?

Addendum 22-Mar-2014: There is a somewhat related article in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell about college rankings in THE ORDER OF THINGS: What college rankings really tell us.

What Makes a Good Programming Environment?

I was recently asked about my opinion regarding agile software development.

I think the core problem is not agile or extreme programming, or object-oriented or structured. I think this simply misses the point. Below are the key ingredients to succeed in software development when it comes to development in larger groups of people, say 3 people and more.

  1. Your edit-compile-debug cycle should be fast. With fast I mean less than a second.
  2. Your build-system (make, ant, maven, etc.) must support the development and ideally only compiles those parts which really need compilation. Use ccache or distcc where required or possible. Unfortunately, some sites simply don’t use this build tools but rather build manually. I still witness software development where to rebuild the entire software system takes half a day, fiddling with JCL and various menus to achieve the desired goal.
  3. Continue reading

Mark Twain Commentary on the MacBook Air

Mark Twain’s (1835-1910) words still relevant today for people who want to change established things hastily.

Ken's Techno Tidbits

One of my favorite posts to the Unicode mailing list came during a heated debate about “simplifying” certain character sets. I believe it was Joe Becker who re-posted Mark Twain’s humorous proposal for simplifying English spelling:

Mark Twain

In year 1, that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s;” and likewise, “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” ould be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealth with later. Year 2 might reform the “w” spelling so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant wile year 3 might well abolish “y,” replasing it with “i;” and iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all.

Jeneraly, then the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants; and iears 6-12 or so modifaiiing vowlz…

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