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BOOKS - General, Non-finance literature
joules mm1
post Posted: May 20 2014, 01:06 PM
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does anyone have a review of their own regarding
non-fiction
Australia's Secret War by Hal Colebatch ?

i got a promo email about the book and it's pretty eyebrow-raising ...if substantive

thanks, in advance, for your opinion smile.gif



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. . . . . . . . everything has an art
 
triage
post Posted: Dec 7 2013, 07:50 AM
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Regrets? I've had a few, but one which I intend to address in 2014 is the fall-off in the amount of general and recreational reading I do.

And here is a starting list probably as good and as broad as any to work from, from The Economist.

http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-ar...n-policy-Israel

(funnily titled link though...not sure why Israel gets a mention unsure.gif )

I've got a book about China's prospects by Michael Pettis and "The unfinished global revolution" by Mark Mallock-Brown idling on the runway for my Chrissie reading, and I still have to get to "The Quest" by Daniel Yergin which was recommended to me on this forum, and a couple of other China books (one about WWII and the other about its transition to a communist state). But I think I will try to focus more on fiction writing than I have in the recent past: the novel by that young kiwi, Eleanor Catton, appears to be top notch though at over 800 pages that would likely be a couple of months of bed-time reading for me.








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"The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent." John Maynard Keynes

"The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought." Rudiger Dornbush

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Aristotle
 
nipper
post Posted: Mar 11 2013, 09:33 PM
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In Reply To: nipper's post @ Jan 19 2013, 03:50 PM

Gulag: a History Anne Applebaum 2004. Based on archives, interviews, new research and recently published memoirs, the book explains the role that the camps played in the Soviet political and economic system. It also describes daily life in the camps: how people lived, worked, ate, slept, fought, died and survived. .... All true, folks

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56. By Anne Applebaum. Doubleday; 608 pages; Author picks through the rubble of eastern Europe’s most difficult decade and traces how, in the end, the Soviet empire’s ambitions there contained the seeds of its own destruction.

Stasiland Anna Funder 2002. Scary stuff.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. By Katherine Boo. Random House; 288 pages; A wonderful read; and the acuity is such that I started wondering about our own 'system'



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"Every long-term security is nothing more than a claim on some expected future stream of cash that will be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected future cash payments, the higher the price investors pay today for that stream of cash, the lower the long-term return they will achieve on their investment over time."
- Dr John Hussman

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nipper
post Posted: Jan 19 2013, 03:50 PM
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In Reply To: nipper's post @ Jan 19 2013, 03:47 PM

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction, by Nate Silver published by Allen Lane, 2012


The fashionable term now is “Big Data”. IBM estimates that we are generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, more than 90 per cent of which was created in the last two years.

This exponential growth in information is sometimes seen as a cure-all, as computers were in the 1970s. Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, wrote in 2008 that the sheer volume of data would obviate the need for theory, and even the scientific method.

This is an emphatically pro-science and pro-technology book, and I think of it as a very optimistic one. But it argues that these views are badly mistaken. The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning. Like Caesar, we may construe them in self-serving ways that are detached from their objective reality.

Data-driven predictions can succeed – and they can fail. It is when we deny our role in the process that the odds of failure rise. Before we demand more of our data, we need to demand more of ourselves.

This attitude might seem surprising if you know my background. I have a reputation for working with data and statistics and using them to make successful predictions. In 2003, bored at a consulting job, I designed a system called PECOTA, which sought to predict the statistics of Major League Baseball players. It contained a number of innovations – its forecasts were probabilistic, for instance, outlining a range of possible outcomes for each player – and we found that it outperformed competing systems when we compared their results. In 2008, I founded the website FiveThirtyEight, which sought to forecast the upcoming election. The FiveThirtyEight forecasts correctly predicted the winner of the presidential contest in 49 of 50 states as well as the winner of all 35 US Senate races.

After the election, I was approached by a number of publishers who wanted to capitalise on the success of books such as Moneyball and Freakonomics  that told the story of nerds conquering the world. My book was conceived of along those lines – as an investigation of data-driven predictions in fields ranging from baseball to finance to national security.

But in speaking with well more than 100 experts in more than a dozen fields over the course of four years, reading hundreds of journal articles and books, and travelling everywhere from Las Vegas to Copenhagen in pursuit of my investigation, I came to realise that prediction in the era of Big Data was not going very well. I had been lucky on a few levels: first, in having achieved success despite having made many of the mistakes that I will describe, and second, in having chosen my battles well.

Baseball, for instance, is an exceptional case. It happens to be an especially rich and revealing exception, and the book considers why this is so – why a decade after Moneyball, stat geeks and scouts are now working in harmony.

The book offers some other hopeful examples. Weather forecasting, which also involves a melding of human judgment and computer power, is one of them. Meteorologists have a bad reputation, but they have made remarkable progress, being able to forecast the landfall position of a hurricane three times more accurately than they were a quarter-century ago. Meanwhile, I met poker players and sports bettors who really were beating Las Vegas, and the computer programmers who built IBM’s Deep Blue and took down a world chess champion.

But these cases of progress in forecasting must be weighed against a series of failures.

If there is one thing that defines Americans – one thing that makes us exceptional – it is our belief in Cassius’s idea that we are in control of our own fates. Our country was founded at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution by religious rebels who had seen that the free flow of ideas had helped to spread not just their religious beliefs, but also those of science and commerce. Most of our strengths and weaknesses as a nation – our ingenuity and our industriousness, our arrogance and our impatience – stem from our unshakable belief in the idea that we choose our own course.

But the new millennium got off to a terrible start for Americans. We had not seen the September 11 attacks coming. The problem was not want of information. As had been the case in the Pearl Harbour attacks six decades earlier, all the signals were there. But we had not put them together. Lacking a theory for how terrorists might behave, we were blind to the data and the attacks were an “unknown unknown” to us.

There also were the widespread failures of prediction that accompanied the recent global financial crisis. Our naive trust in models, and our failure to realise how fragile they were to our choice of assumptions, yielded disastrous results. On a more routine basis, meanwhile, I discovered that we are unable to predict recessions more than a few months in advance, and not for lack of trying. While there has been considerable progress made in controlling inflation, our economic policymakers are otherwise flying blind.

The forecasting models published by political scientists in advance of the 2000 presidential election predicted a landslide 11-point victory for Al Gore. George W. Bush won instead. Rather than being an anomalous result, failures like these have been fairly common in political prediction. A long-term study by Philip Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania found that when political scientists claimed that a political outcome had absolutely no chance of occurring, it nevertheless happened about 15 per cent of the time. (The political scientists are probably better than TV pundits, however.)

There has recently been, as in the 1970s, a revival of attempts to predict earthquakes, most of them using highly mathematical and data-driven techniques. But these predictions envisaged earthquakes that never happened and failed to prepare us for those that did. The Fukushima nuclear reactor had been designed to handle a magnitude 8.6 earthquake, in part because some seismologists concluded that anything larger was impossible. Then came Japan’s horrible magnitude 9.1 earthquake in March 2011.

There are entire disciplines in which predictions have been failing, often at great cost to society. Consider something like biomedical research. In 2005, an Athens-raised medical researcher named John Ioannidis published a controversial paper titled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. The paper studied positive findings documented in peer-reviewed journals: descriptions of successful predictions of medical hypotheses carried out in lab experiments. It concluded that most of these findings were likely to fail when applied in the real world. Bayer Laboratories recently confirmed Ioannidis’s hypothesis. They could not replicate about two-thirds of the positive findings claimed in medical journals when they attempted the experiments themselves.

Big Data will produce progress – eventually. How quickly it does, and whether we regress in the meantime, will depend on us.



Fear of the future

Biologically, we are not very different from our ancestors. But some Stone Age strengths are now information-age weaknesses.

Human beings do not have very many natural defences. We are not all that fast, and we are not all that strong. We do not have claws or fangs or body armour. We cannot spit venom. We cannot camouflage ourselves. And we cannot fly. Instead, we survive by means of our wits. Our minds are quick. We are wired to detect patterns and respond to opportunities and threats without much hesitation.

“This need of finding patterns, humans have this more than other animals,” I was told by Tomaso Poggio, an MIT neuroscientist who studies how our brains process information. “Recognising objects in difficult situations means generalising. A newborn baby can recognise the basic pattern of a face. It has been learnt by evolution, not by the individual.”

The problem, Poggio says, is that these evolutionary instincts sometimes lead us to see patterns when there are none there. “People have been doing that all the time,” Poggio said. “Finding patterns in random noise.”

The human brain is quite remarkable; it can store perhaps three terabytes of information. And yet that is only about one one-millionth of the information that IBM says is now produced in the world each day. So we have to be terribly selective about the information we choose to remember.

Alvin Toffler, writing in the book Future Shock in 1970, predicted some of the consequences of what he called “information overload”. He thought our defence mechanism would be to simplify the world in ways that confirmed our biases, even as the world itself was growing more diverse and more complex.

Our biological instincts are not always very well adapted to the information-rich modern world. Unless we work actively to become aware of the biases we introduce, the returns to additional information may be minimal – or diminishing.

The information overload after the birth of the printing press produced greater sectarianism. Now those different religious ideas could be testified to with more information, more conviction, more “proof” – and less tolerance for dissenting opinion. The same phenomenon seems to be occurring today. Political partisanship began to increase very rapidly in the US at about the time that Toffler wrote Future Shock and it may be accelerating even faster with the advent of the internet.

These partisan beliefs can upset the equation in which more information will bring us closer to the truth. A recent study in Nature found that the more informed that strong political partisans were about global warming, the less they agreed with one another.

Meanwhile, if the quantity of information is increasing by 2.5 quintillion bytes per day, the amount of useful information almost certainly isn’t. Most of it is just noise, and the noise is increasing faster than the signal. There are so many hypotheses to test, so many data sets to mine – but a relatively constant amount of objective truth.

The printing press changed the way in which we made mistakes. Routine errors of transcription became less common. But when there was a mistake, it would be reproduced many times over, as in the case of the Wicked Bible.

Complex systems like the world wide web have this property. They may not fail as often as simpler ones, but when they fail they fail badly.

Capitalism and the internet, both of which are incredibly efficient at propagating information, create the potential for bad ideas as well as good ones to spread. The bad ideas may produce disproportionate effects. In advance of the financial crisis, the system was so highly levered that a single lax assumption in the credit ratings agencies’ models played a huge role in bringing down the whole global financial system.

Regulation is one approach to solving these problems. But I am suspicious that it is an excuse to avoid looking within ourselves for answers. We need to stop, and admit it: we have a prediction problem. We love to predict things – and we aren’t very good at it.






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"Every long-term security is nothing more than a claim on some expected future stream of cash that will be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected future cash payments, the higher the price investors pay today for that stream of cash, the lower the long-term return they will achieve on their investment over time."
- Dr John Hussman

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nipper
post Posted: Jan 19 2013, 03:47 PM
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In Reply To: nipper's post @ Jan 19 2013, 03:45 PM

The journey to this idea of antifragility was, if anything, nonlinear. I suddenly realised one day that fragility – which had been lacking a technical definition – could be expressed as what does not like volatility, and that what does not like volatility does not like randomness, uncertainty, disorder, errors, stressors etc. Think of anything fragile, say, objects in your living room such as the glass frame, the television set, or, even better, the china in the cupboards. If you label them “fragile”, then you necessarily want them to be left alone in peace, quiet, order, and predictability. A fragile object would not possibly benefit from an earthquake or the visit of your hyperactive nephew. Further, everything that does not like volatility does not like stressors, harm, chaos, events, disorder, “unforeseen” consequences, uncertainty, and, critically, time.

And antifragility flows – sort of – from this explicit definition of fragility. It likes volatility et al. It also likes time. And there is a powerful and helpful link to nonlinearity: everything nonlinear in response is either fragile or antifragile to a certain source of randomness.

The strangest thing is that this obvious property that anything fragile hates volatility, and vice versa, has been sitting completely outside the scientific and philosophical discourse. Completely. And the study of the sensitivity of things to volatility is the strange business specialty in which I spent most of my adult life, two decades – I know it is a strange specialty, I promise to explain later. My focus in that profession has been on identifying items that “love volatility” or “hate volatility”; so all I had to do was expand the ideas from the financial domain in which I had been focused to the broader notion of decision making under uncertainty across various fields, from political science to medicine to dinner plans.

And in that strange profession of people who work with volatility, there were two types. First category – academics, report writers, and commentators who study future events and write books and papers; and, second category, the practitioners who, instead of studying future events, try to understand how things react to volatility (but practitioners are usually too busy practitioning to write books, articles, papers, speeches, equations, theories and get honoured by Highly Constipated and Honorable Members of Academies). The difference between the two categories is central: as we saw, it is much easier to understand if something is harmed by volatility – hence fragile — than try to forecast harmful events, such as these oversized Black Swans. But only practitioners (or people who do things) tend to spontaneously get the point.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University. He is the author of, most famously, The Black Swan, Random House, 2007, which is about unpredictable events and peoples’ retrospective explanations for them. He is a former financial markets trader. The above is an edited extract from Antifragile: How to live in a world we don’t understand, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, published by Penguin.



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"Every long-term security is nothing more than a claim on some expected future stream of cash that will be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected future cash payments, the higher the price investors pay today for that stream of cash, the lower the long-term return they will achieve on their investment over time."
- Dr John Hussman
 
nipper
post Posted: Jan 19 2013, 03:45 PM
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In Reply To: nipper's post @ Dec 9 2012, 01:25 PM

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman ; Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2011


Behavioralists, Kahneman included, have been cataloging people’s systematic mistakes and nonlogical patterns for years. A few of the examples he cites:

1. Framing. Test subjects are more likely to opt for surgery if told that the “survival” rate is 90 percent, rather than that the mortality rate is 10 percent.

2. The sunk-cost fallacy. People seek to avoid feelings of regret; thus, they invest more money and time in a project with dubious results rather than give it up and admit they were wrong.

3. Loss aversion. In experiments, most subjects would prefer to receive a sure $46 than have a 50 percent chance of making $100. A rational agent would take the bet. Remarkably, and for similar reasons, golfers putt better when missing would leave them a stroke behind.



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"Every long-term security is nothing more than a claim on some expected future stream of cash that will be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected future cash payments, the higher the price investors pay today for that stream of cash, the lower the long-term return they will achieve on their investment over time."
- Dr John Hussman
 


nipper
post Posted: Dec 9 2012, 01:25 PM
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triage (and others who seem to care about such things), I have been reading Niall Ferguson's The Great Degeneration; How Institutions Decay and Economies Die 2012, based on 2012 BBC4 Reith lecture
text at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jmxqp or podcast http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/reith

And also in the reading mix of late, following the Stalingrad theme of August posting

Life and Fate, by Vasiliy Grossman written 1960, suppressed (the book was arrested (!), made it to the West by 1980 - absolutely great, all 855 pp.)

Everything Flows by Vasiliy Grossman - more patchy, but full of powerful chapters. finished around his death in 1964, collectivisation, the Ukrainian famine, plus plus

and a collection of stories, articles etc (ranging from narrow polemicism to broad sweep of the human condition) The Road, Journalism & Essays by Vasiliy Grossman ed, by Robert Chandler 2010

Jerusalem; a Biography by Simon Sebag Montfiore 2011 was good overview of the place, through the centuries/ millenia

A Spectator's Guide to World Religions by John Dickson - outlines history and beliefs of the world's five major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam; & urges readers to confront the similarities and differences between the great faiths

and lastly, Young Mandela, The Revolutionary Years by David James Smith 2010 digs into newly discovered government documents and firsthand interviews prior to his incarceration. less saint, more human



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"Every long-term security is nothing more than a claim on some expected future stream of cash that will be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected future cash payments, the higher the price investors pay today for that stream of cash, the lower the long-term return they will achieve on their investment over time."
- Dr John Hussman

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triage
post Posted: Dec 8 2012, 08:01 AM
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The Economist magazine has put out their list of books for 2012. Some business / finance stuff there but also lots of pointers for general reading as well, even one on our man Warnie...

http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-ar...ec/page_turners



--------------------
"The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent." John Maynard Keynes

"The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought." Rudiger Dornbush

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Aristotle

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alonso
post Posted: Oct 28 2012, 10:13 AM
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Here's another one that might interest post-apocalyptic sci-fi fans:
http://archive.org/details/ACanticleForLiebowitz



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"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true"

"What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom." Adam Smith
 
nipper
post Posted: Sep 5 2012, 01:36 PM
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In Reply To: alonso's post @ Aug 24 2012, 03:30 PM

a bit of a journey of late:

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. 2007 (his travels weren't that interesting, but reseach and readings about the place were thorough, piqueing my interest <no mention of SLA>)

The shaman's coat : a native history of Siberia by Anna Reid. 2003 (good stuff)

Borderland : a journey through the history of Ukraine by Anna Reid. 1997 (follow the author)

Leningrad : tragedy of a city under Siege, 1941-44 by Anna Reid.
2011 (heavy. Horrible times. Awful losses. Stalin V Hitler for tyrant of the century?)

Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor. 2007 (wonderful narrative; ditto comments above)


In search of Kazakhstan : the land that disappeared by Christopher Robbins. 2007 (V interesting - one of the few books that are better than travel narratives)


At the tomb of the inflatable pig : travels through Paraguay by John Gimlette. 2003 (totally recommended - a great eye and good writer)

Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge
by John Gimlette. 2011 (ditto)

Theatre of Fish by John Gimlette. 2005 (on the list - its about Newfoundland)

Panther Soup by John Gimlette. 2008 (on the list - its about a WW2 tank driver who retraces his journey 60 years on, with author)

Australians. Volume 1, Origins to Eureka by Thomas Keneally. 2009 (we should all know something about our history)

Australians. Volume 2, From Eureka to the Diggers by Thomas Keneally. 2011 (we should all know something about our history)


Batavia : betrayal, shipwreck, murder, sexual slavery, courage : a spine-chilling chapter in Australian history by Peter FitzSimons. 2011 (we should all know a little bit more about our history)
[/size]


T
he true adventures of John Nicol / illustrated and edited by Julian Bruere by Nicol, John, 1755-1825 (pub 2006). (we should all know a little bit more about our history .. and an amazing read)




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"Every long-term security is nothing more than a claim on some expected future stream of cash that will be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected future cash payments, the higher the price investors pay today for that stream of cash, the lower the long-term return they will achieve on their investment over time."
- Dr John Hussman

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