Humans are not rational creatures (Part 430,399)

Which number is greater, 420,000 or 420,399?

You may be surprised by the answer. According to this article, researchers at Cornell have found that people have an innate tendency to downplay the magnitude of precise numbers. So a “sharp” number like 367,429 is perceived as being smaller than a round number like 367,000.

Hat tip: think again


My favorite things Chicago

1. Authors: Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Theodore Dreiser. Barack Obama? Haven’t read anything by him yet though will probably be seeing some executive orders soon.

2. Restaurants: Hard to say since Chez Paul’s closed. My high school French teacher used to take a group to dinner there every year. Morton’s Steakhouse is good. Have reservations at NoMi on Wednesday. Hot dogs, pizza and Italian beef sandwiches in this town are spectacular almost anywhere.

3. Movies: Blues Brothers, Ferris Beuler’s Day Off, The Untouchables, The Fugitive.

4. Museums: Almost too many to mention. I used to cut school to wander around the Museum of Science and Industry. The Art Institute’s collection of impressionists is unparalleled. Shedd Aquarium is nice too.

5. Hotels: I would say the Drake is my favorite. Had a suite there a few years ago that I really could have moved into. Beautiful view of the lake. Getting a little tired of the Palmer House, which is where they always hold this conference. I have closets bigger than this room.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen who always does this.

A blog about R

I keep finding more and more blogs to read. Today via a post on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science I ran across one called Revolutions that is all about R. I learned a lot just reading the last four or five posts.

REvolution Computing is a company that provides value added to the open source R software. They produce an optimized version of R caled Revolution R. From their website:

REvolution R runs many computationally-intensive programs faster, especially on multiprocessor systems. REvolution R is built with high-performance compilers and linked with computational libraries that take advantage of multiple processors simultaneously to reduce the time to complete many common mathematical operations. You do not need to modify your code to benefit from these optimizations.

The software is available for free download.

Data visualization blogs

One of my passions is data visualization. Given the graphical tools we have, and the availability of large data sets, it seems we are living in a golden age of data visualization. Here is a list of blogs I have found on the subject, in no particular order:

Information aesthetics
Information Design Watch
Flowing Data
Junk Charts
Visual Business Intelligence
PTS Blog
Charts by Jorge Camoes

I didn’t realize there were so many until I put that list together. The other day I found a new one that is really interesting: Enrico Bertini’s Visuale.

If you know of any others, please let me know.

Evolutionary Search for Our Perfect Past

Very good essay today in the New York Times about the questionable belief that today’s health problems are the result of “our Stone Age genes [being] thrust into Space Age life.” The author calls this a paleofantasy: the idea that at some point in the past things were perfect, and they could be perfect again if we followed the ways our wise forebears.

This same fantasy is operative in many fields. In Constitutional Law for example, scholars spend a lot of time trying to divine the Framers’ Original Intent. Much social policy seems directed toward recreating an ideal family, of the kind that is thought to have existed sometime in the 1950s. But where paleofantasy really flourishes is in the religious arena — especially fundamentalism, which seeks to recreate the faith experience of the earliest adherents in some idealized past.

In most cases, our fantasies about the past do not correspond with actual events.

Ground source heat pumps

From CNET News: Tapping the Earth for home heating and cooling. A good popular article on geothermal or ground source heat pumps.

Go here to estimate the savings from converting your home HVAC system to geothermal.


According to this post on Dymanic Diagrams’ Information Design Watch blog, computers have made it easier to develop gerrymandered congressional districts. The district they used to illustrate the post was so laughable I had to look it up. And yes, it really does look like that:
I find it particularly funny because I grew up in the southern earmuff of the district. Anyone familiar with the Chicago area knows exactly why it has such a crazy shape. Read Wikipedia’s article on gerrymandering (it uses the Illinois 4th as an example) for a good explanation.

I like how it runs right down the middle of Roosevelt Road, turns up Harlem for a stretch, then wanders right into the middle of the Eisenhower Expressway — like a drunk trying to find his way home.

Information Design Watch goes on to say:

Mathematicians and lawyers are focused on improving the reapportioning process coming up in less than two years. Another use of their analysis is simpler – to find the worst offenders and shame the politicians that put them in place.

Good luck with that. With one or two exceptions (Hi, Steve!), Illinois politicians have no shame.