Showing posts from 2013

Using Psychology

Just this week, I finished my fifth Coursera MOOC - Social Pyschology, from Wesleyan University. Somewhat interesting, I didn't really learn as much as the behavioural psych and it was a lot of watching videos from experiments, although that still had some hilights like original shots from the Milgram Obedience and Stanford Prison Experiments. Plus, going back to writing assignments took a bit of adjusting to :)

One thing is for sure though, I think Social Psych (or at least, the people running this course and discussing the most on the forums) seemed too closed-mindedly left-wing for my liking. While that might not be a bad thing on average, it's a bit unfortunate in a hopefully scientific, educational environment if logical reasoning is dropped and people just follow oversimplified arguments.

Anyway, the course is over, enough of the mini-rant. The actual interesting thing that seemed worth posting about is something I noticed when doing part of the required readings. In p…

The value of a dollar

After my North Korea trip, it was pretty easy to realise that there are some problems with the current form of capitalism, and it's worth trying to identify and borrow good parts of non-capitalist systems; unfortunately, I'm not really experienced in that area (by that I mean, I know effectively nothing), so trying to improve that by reading a few recommendations on the Marxist/Leninist side of things - Das Kapital and The State and Revolution (I know, Amazon links, oh the irony).

In any case, I'm only part way through the first and making slow progress, but all the talk of commodities and the gold standard made me think about how we define currencies today. You see, way back when, coins were used to represent actual metal value - i.e. the british pound used to be the Anglo Saxon pound which was one pound weight of silver in value. This was nice in that it fixes the price of silver (i.e. a pound buys you a pound) but means that the cost of everything else varies as the me…

RtW Cities: Beijing

A small post this time for a big city: Beijing, which I was lucky to get the chance to visit on the trip back from Pyongyang, although only for a few days hence the brevity of this summary. I almost didn't post it, except it'd be worth it just to say: If you ever visit, don't get scammed! Whether it be Karaoke, or Tea/Art rooms, or Taxis, or...unless you look like a local, you'll be treated as a tourist, and a target for one of the many scams that are waiting for you. Even after making the mistake of not researching travel costs and falling for an un-metered taxi scam when first arriving, the second time we went from the airport to the city we asked the uniformed airport official at the front of the queue for an unmetered taxi, yet he still led us to a driver with the special 'laminated price', at which point we bailed, took our luggage back out from the boot and tried again.
Sorry, rant over. Just after a week in Pyongyang, entering a country where you'll…

Time revisited

While searching my blog for something, I ran across this previous post:
In particular, the first part - August-2008-me talking about 2013-me looking back at August-2008-me.

So to reflect on August-2008: I don't think I was too much of a fool. Maybe a bit. Not a huge amount though, thankfully, except for thinking that 2013-me would be odd - 'weird' is a much better word. I was a bit more...emo/whiney I guess - posts like this and this remind me that, after all, I had only just graduated back then. Still, that balances out with posts on credit or inverse darwinism that seem fine, and I'm still thankful that past-me took a photo of the rubbish bin (or not) at uni.

To August-2008-me, I say: I wrote more posts than you thought I would. I think back then I already had a job offer at Google, and thought I'd be a researcher in New York by now, so working in Zurich isn't too bad. I think I'm less …

RtW Cities: Pyongyang

Preliminary readings: If you haven't yet, check out my previous blog post first. This is just about Pyongyang as a city, and all the 'OMG North Korea' side of things should be covered by following that link. This post will still be here when you get back. Done? Cool, to continue...

The next round-the-world cities family of posts features Pyongyang (평양), the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, known by many as North Korea). I would have never guessed in 2010 that I'd be returning to the Korean peninsula so soon (read the Seoul post from the last trip), and especially not on the northern side of the border, but an opportunity came up to visit for both the mass games and victory day, so it would have seemed sillier not to go!

First and foremost, Pyongyang is a city of two halves - vast amounts of concrete housing estates for the majority of the population, interspersed with the more well maintained monuments, statues, museums, galleries, ... an…

RtW Cities: Pyongyang (prequel)

Welcome to one of the more interesting cities I think I'll ever get the chance to write about in this series of posts: Pyongyang (평양), the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, a.k.a North Korea). However, based on the reactions I got when going (mostly: "Why on earth would you go there!?") plus my own predispositions, I don't think I'd be able to do it justice without a warmup post of what it took me a few days in the city to realise - that, for most part, it's not as insanely different as other countries.

Sure, it's a military-focussed single-party state with a family-based dictatorship (i.e. a Monarchy?), with a particular dislike of America (it seems the feeling is mutual), a dependence on country-level propaganda and harsh punishments for disagreeing. As it turns out, if you look at most countries with the belief they're evil, then you'll find bad stuff. Except Australia, cos we're awesome...if you overlook the …

RtW Cities: Venice

After a comparatively long time between holidays, summer has arrived to Zurich, complete with 30 degree weather (86F for those weird people) and this means it's time to travel! First city to add to the Round-the-World list is Venice, which can be reached from Zurich in about seven hours of train journey; and quite an impressive train ride it is, scenery-wise! (e.g. greenery and Alps like this).

But really, this trip was all about the island city itself - or, in reality, about 100 really small islands. My first impression, which stayed for the entire trip, was that this was the most touristy place I can ever remember visiting, and that beats Cape Town during the world cup and Athens just after the 2004 Olympics. Pretty much everything is set up for tourists - the main walkways are lined with stores selling Venice-themed everything, there are loads of handbag / novelty toy sellers who  try to sell to random passers by the whole time, there are cafes, restaurants, pizzerias and gela…


Long time between drinks! I've had a bunch of things keep me busy in the meantime, and a general lack of doing stuff bloggable, but figured it was worth keeping this from stagnating by posting an update to cover a few topics that had come up recently.

Firstly, as hinted by the picture, I finally got around to reading Atlas Shrugged. I've been meaning to catch up on more classic, controversial stories, and after repeatedly coming up in the recent US elections, I figured it was worth a shot. The only thing I'd heard about it was the quote about it and Lord of the Rings - so I expected rampant free markets but not much else.

While it certainly takes it to the extreme (Ayn Rand seems like she'd have been an interesting person to talk to, if not insufferable), I think there's a few things to take from it in a more recent climate. The characters are a bit too...rational, I guess, for it to even approximate reality - not that that's a bad thing, just that I don't …


(Note: not about travel this week! I've mostly just been in Zurich...)

In the news a while ago, a number of issues had come up which led to people blaming media coverage for inciting violence / propogating stereotypes. This led me to wonder to what extent the media actually had control over this sort of stuff, and how much as a business they just reflected the views of their news-article consumers as a whole. While I haven't made it any further on this issue (the average public opinion seems to be 'blame the media!' which isn't very helpful...), I did recently read a short piece in the TED books range** called "Media Makeover" by Alisa Miller (CEO of Public Radio International) which had a few interesting takes on things which seemed worth adding for anyone interested.

The most interesting part I found concerning my question above is quite a simple idea: How much is written about stuff that readers want to read? If the correlation was low, then that's…