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SoundHound FTW

Shazam was the first iPhone app that I found extremely useful. I always kept a piece of paper and pen in my car for the times when I'd hear a song on the radio but couldn't identify it. Scribbling down a lyric or two at least allowed me to Google the song later.

Along came Shazam, an application that identified the song by simply "listening" to it. While it worked for most songs, it couldn't identify different versions of a song or acoustic songs.

Midomi was a competitor to Shazam that claimed to be able to identify a song if you sang into the iPhone or even hummed the notes. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work, at least not for me.

I noticed that Midomi had been updated as SoundHound on my phone, and I tested it out. It identified all of the following songs as I sang them (10 second fragments is what it records).

Shimmer - Fuel
Careful - Guster (2 tries)
Falling - Ben Kweller
Bizarre Love Triangle - Stabbing Westward version
You and I Both - Jason Mraz
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
Don't Stop Believin - Journey

SoundHound recognized all except one on the first try, and more importantly, it didn't miss a single one. My guess that it doesn't just recognize notes and pitch, but has some very basic word recognition programming.


Modern Cavemen

No, not those Geico guys. From a NY Times article:

The caveman lifestyle, in Mr. Durant’s interpretation, involves eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunts. Vegetables and fruit are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavailable before the invention of agriculture. Mr. Durant believes the human body evolved for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and his goal is to wean himself off what he sees as many millenniums of bad habits.

It goes through other ways people are trying to emulate our remote ancestors. At times, the interviewees sound rather socially inept.

Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short. Asked when he last gave blood, Andrew Sanocki said it had been three months. He and his brother looked at each other. “We’re due,” Andrew said.

My view: in theory, evolutionary fitness/nutrition sounds promising. But there are really no controlled studies showing it works better than other lifestyles.


Malthusianism Redux

Malthusian economics held for all of history prior to 1800. I think it would be fair to say that it held even before we evolved into humans, though that might be a reach--I don't know. Today, Malthusian economics doesn't hold. We're getting richer every day.

A prediction about whether Malthusian economics will re-assert in the future should, I think, hinge on an explanation of why it doesn't hold today. Are we living in a brief anomaly, a temporary blip in time? Or have we undergone a secular, permanent change?

In the discussion below, I didn't see any convincing explanation of why we no longer live in a Malthusian world. I see two factors at work:

1) Technology grows much faster than population. If the population doubles, but technology allows us produce four times the stuff from the same resources, people still get richer.

2) People have fewer children.

Regarding the future, I have no idea if technology will continue to grow faster indefinitely. But why are people deciding to have fewer children?

I'm talking far out of my league here, but I think people have undergone a shift in reproductive strategy from one of dandelions to one of mammals. (Is there a better analogy?) Dandelions spread their many seeds as far and wide as possible. Some will thrive; many won't. Mammals invest heavily into a small number of offspring. Today's middle class parents want to get their kids into college for white-collar jobs. They can't do that if they have too many children.

The other variable might be selfish parents-- how can I enjoy my own life (big screen TV, vacations, retirement) if I have too many children?

I'm not sure how, if at all, the dynamics change in the far future. I'm not convinced of Malthusian re-assertion.


Malthusianism: Theory vs Data

Like Curunir, I found Robin Hanson's post on the "Dream Time" interesting. What struck me most is his prediction that our descendants will fall back to Malthusian economics: as the population grows, there are less resources for everyone, and the average wealth per capita is barely enough to survive.

Briefly, Malthusian economics, which held for all of history prior to 1800, is as follows. Start with the per capita wealth at subsistence levels. As technology improves, wealth grows. This allows people to have more children. Now there are fewer resources for everyone, so average wealth falls back down to subsistence levels.

Since 1800, in the First World, the dynamic has changed. As societies progress and accrue wealth, people generally decide to have fewer children, and the population stabilizes. Technology continues to improve, and per capita, people become richer.

The Malthusian skeptic of today sees all of this as temporary. His argument is:

* Forget the term "people". Think rather of "replicating beings". These beings have a strong tendency to make as many copies of themselves as possible.
* There are limited resources in the universe.
* The more beings there are, the less resources each can have.
* Technology can help us use our resources more efficiently, possibly making more resources available to everyone, but there is a limit to how much technology can do this.
* There might be some--or even a large majority of--beings that decide not to make many copies of themselves, but all it takes is a tiny subset that multiply fruitfully, and soon these fecund rebels will replace their less fertile cousins.
* Sure, we do not currently live by Malthusian economics, but sooner or later, Malthusian economics has to re-assert itself. Our wealth and abundance is temporary.

This is one instance in which the theory seems compelling even if it's counter to current trends. It's also depressing to me since I always thought of progress as a given, with people getting richer all the time. The only arguments I can think of against Malthusian re-assertion are that:

1) Beings could decide to enforce limited replication.
2) We don't know everything there is to know about physics. Resources may not be as limited as they appear today.


More proof that China will one day own us

I came across this clip while surfing Youtube for Jim Rogers clips. It's of Soros being interviewed in China in front of a large audience of what appears to be reporters. I have no idea who the two Chinese men are sitting next to him, whether they be journalists or have some connection to the government, but the guy on the right challenges Soros on his views of what causes and cures recessions. What's interesting is that the Chinese man makes arguments straight out of the Austrian economics catechism. If his views are common in China, the Chinese will one day own us (if they don't already).

Soros eventually does talk about Jim Rogers at the end, basically belittling him and claiming he hasn't been successful since he left the Quantum Fund. I've been following Rogers for over a decade, and his predictions have been basically correct, moreso than any other talking head I've seen. I haven't, however, seen any hard numbers on his returns.


Macroeconomics is complete and total horseshit

Though I've felt this way since the beginning, I don't think I've actually spelled it out. So there it is.

Merry Christmas!


More proof that Jason Mraz is immanentizing the eschaton

The only part I understood was "But I..."


Dark, Dark Times

Thank you Obama voters. What's amazing to me is how someone like Obama, someone who has never shown even the slightest skepticism toward government power, got backed by a majority. I guess fashion and white guilt are more powerful drives than I thought.

One of the biggest power-grabs in modern history is basically a done deal. Merry Christmas!


Opening yourself up to joy

The best show on TV right now is Glee. It's the only (first?) musical television series. Combine the trials and tribulations of high school with the edgy realism of Ryan Murphy, throw in gaudy theatrical productions, add just a touch of Journey, and the result is simply fabulous.


Culture Matters II

Jacob posted that the difference between libertarians and conservatives is that the latter believe culture is vitally important. On a similar note, author John C. Wright writes:

I have read Libertarian writings quite closely for quite a number of years. Before I had children, and before 9/11, I was a libertarian of the most consistent and orthodox character. Then I realized that libertarians are guilty of the same fallacy which they see in others: the stolen concept fallacy.

The Libertarian assumes a Lockean or (if you will) an Ayn Randian theory of government, but does not recognize that the formal processes of the law are void and of none effect if not supported and sustained by the values and virtues of the culture, that is, by the informal and largely unspoken consensus of shared opinion.

In the same way that Christians, when they take vows and live in monasteries, can live like Communists, and prosper, whereas Communists who live like Communists die; and in the same way that Christians, when they accept the palm of martyrdom, can die like pagan Stoics, whereas pagan Stoics, when left to their own devices, merely become indifferent to the suffers of others, and erect gladiatorial circuses; so in the same way can Christians can prosper in a limited government of enumerated powers, tolerating differences, whereas Liberals and Libertarians cannot tolerate, and dare not tolerate, heretical opinions. Without Christianity, Libertarianism is little more than a movement favoring drug legalization and the repeal of gun laws.

That's an interesting question: what sustains free societies? Let's say you start with a libertarian society in year 1. How do we ensure that the people won't pass laws that make it a socialist society by year 100? Wright seems to believe the answer is Christianity.

BTW, The Golden Age was a fabulous book. I never got around to reading the rest of the series unfortunately.


No Need for a National Champion

College football is a different animal. Many fans who follow it from a distance by watching highlights on Sportscenter or the occasional game on TV don't appreciate this.

I for one have absolutely no desire to crown a national champion in college football. I honestly don't care. A college football national champion won't make my life better in the least. I'm perfectly fine having the regular season games, conference championships, and bowl games without crowning a champion.


What is a "real" champion?

The 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, including a win over the NY Giants. No other team in NFL history had achieved this feat. The Miami Dolphins achieved an undefeated regular season back when teams only played 14 games and went on to win the Super Bowl. But ever since the league changed to playing 16 games, no team had ever emerged unscathed.

Yet, to prove that they were "champions", they were asked to beat the Giants once more, a team that lost six more games than the Pats in the regular season. The Pats came up short. Giants were crowned "champions".

Does this system sound fair to anyone? It sure doesn't to me.


The New New Year's Day

Today was one of the best days of college football I've ever experienced. Lots of big games, and most of them went down to the wire. Nebraska gave the game against Texas away by kicking it off out of bounds giving the Longhorns great field position without running time off the clock. Despite what Colt McCoy says about knowing how much time was on the clock, I think he completely lost track of the time. If Ndamukong Suh doesn't pressure McCoy on the next to last play, he isn't forced to throw the ball away, and time runs out. Heck, even if they complete a pass, time likely expires before they call the time out. Texas got lucky.

Speaking of Suh, he's the best football player in the country. Since defensive players don't win Heismans, my vote would go to Toby Gerhardt. Though most experts are putting him third or fourth in the balloting, he's my dark horse to win by geographic voting. The West will vote for him unanimously but the rest of the country will split between McCoy, Tebow, and Ingram.

The large number of high impact games today was reminiscient of New Year's Day games of the pre-BCS era. These days, there are only a couple of bowl games on NYD that matter; the rest are played singly in primetime during the following week. College football is headed more and more towards a pro football culture, which is a shame. The first weekend of December when the conference championship games are held is the new NYD.

By my count, Alabama, Pitt, and Cincinnati all missed extra points, and the Houston kicker missed three of them for a total of 6 in one day. I usually don't see that many misses in a full season.

The biggest argument against the BCS is that it's dominated by BCS conference teams. If Nebraska had beaten Texas, that would have likely put TCU in the BCS Championship Game. TCU in that game and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, both non-BCS conference teams, would have bought the BCS another ten years before the Feds come a knockin' and force a playoff. As it is, both teams are likely headed for BCS bowls, so the BCS has probably bought another five years.

Prediction: Some time in the next ten years, Tim Tebow will come out of the closet. I've never seen an athlete that emotional, especially after losses. He sheds tears every time his team goes down. He reacts to the horde of young nubile co-eds at the University of Florida by saying, "No Thanks!" Hmmm.....


More On General Market Efficiency

It's very difficult for any single individual/entity to beat index returns. For anyone who has some money set aside, the advice, "Put it in an index fund" is sage. Very few mutual funds beat index returns in a given year. Over many years, almost none do. The average investor does not have access to inside information. The stock price moves within seconds in response to any information made public. If someone sees an incongruity or arbitrage opportunity, many others have probably already seen it and have already acted on it. "What makes you think you can beat the market?" is a good question.

It is also a question which I don't think is applied enough.

I was hanging out with some friends in Boston a few months back, and the crowd included friends of friends who I was meeting for the first time. During a conversation, one individual said that he was part of a club that engages in venture capital funding. I was surprised to hear this since he made as much money as I did, i.e., he probably didn't have money to throw around. My Hansonian leanings quickly concluded that he was merely trying to signal that he's ambitious and a "wheeler and dealer", a conjecture buttressed by the presense of several young ladies listening to our conversation. "What makes you think you can beat the market?" echoed in my mind. "What gives you that added edge to analyze fledgling companies better than the pros? Why do you think you can succeed where so many others fail?" were questions I didn't ask.

Vinod Khosla made a living funding fledgling companies through Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. Presumably they were successful. But did they beat market returns? If so, they beat the odds. They're up against the same challenge the rest of us are: a market that incorporates knowledge very quickly. If he saw an opportunity, many others likely did too.

In the general economy, if I think of a new idea for a product, chances are someone has already thought of it. If I think of a new marketing tactic, chances are someone else has already thought of it. Instead of investing in starting a new business, why shouldn't I just put the money in a stock market index fund? Why should anyone start a business?

For someone with some money saved up, why should he do anything (like investing in individual stocks, investing in commodities, funding fledgling companies, starting a new business, loaning it out, etc) other than invest in an index fund?

I suppose the only good answer is, "Only if he wishes to take on a different risk profile than that involved with owning an index fund."


Stock Market Efficiency, part 3

FAITH AND HERESY

Here is what I believe is the only way the stock market can keep returning 10% a year despite everyone knowing it returns 10% a year: everyone doesn't actually "know" it returns 10% a year.

To clarify, I think everyone does "know" this fact much of the time; let's call these the times of Faith. People know it and believe it. But there are long stretches of time when they don't believe it; let's call these the times of Heresy.

During times of Faith, people look back at the average historical 10% returns and expect 10% returns in the future. The actual returns are probably zero or negative since the returns are already discounted.

During times of Heresy, people look back at recent history (the times of Faith) and see zero or negative returns and convince themselves that the stock market is last place to put your money. The actual returns are positive because no discounting takes place.

Average together the times of Faith and Heresy and you get a 10% yearly returns over the long term.

Does history agree with my theoretical conclusion? I believe so. There have been long stretches during which the average returns (not accounting for inflation or deflation) are zero: 1929-1954 and 1966-1982. At the end of those stretches of 25 and 16 years respectively, I imagine people were thoroughly disgusted and convinced that the stock market is a money pit. Those would've been the best times to invest.

Some implications:

  • A contrarian approach to investing is irrefutably necessary. Efficiency demands it. I put this in bold for emphasis. It is simply impossible to beat the stock market without being a contrarian.
  • Because the average return is 10% a year, the historical returns during the times of Heresy have to be much higher. The way to riches is to save up during times of Faith and invest only in times of Heresy. Easier said than done, I agree.
  • One doesn't need to know anything about economics or finance to succeed at investing; one only needs to accurately measure people's faith in the market.
  • I believe we are currently in a time of Faith. People haven't given up completely on the market. Few heretics are seen in the popular press. Give it a few more years.
  • The much ballyhooed "confidence" is a lagging, contrarian indicator.