Art Appreciation: Katsushika Hokusai


I have a stack of Economist magazines from last year that I never got around to reading. Today I went through a couple finally trying to catch up. It was interesting to read the world news of the moment a year removed; to see what they got wrong and what’s still important.

An article about an exhibit on the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) caught my eye with a graphic of his work, “The Great Wave.” This painting is familiar to me for some reason, but only peripherally. Perhaps it decorates the interior of a restaurant I like. I had NO IDEA that it was painted in the 1830s, and that Hokusai’s work inspired the likes of Van Gogh (1853-1890).

“The Great Wave” is a woodblock print, meaning the work was easily reproducible and available to Hokusai’s patrons for about “the price of a big bowl of noodle soup.” This was humble art made for the people. Of the nearly 5,000 copies made in Hokusai’s lifetime very few remain, the ones around today being the survivors of natural disasters, world wars, and almost 200 years time.

Required Reading, Fourth Week of April 2016

Throughout the week, I read a LOT of online articles. What follows are the three I found most interesting:

The Next Conservative Movement,via The Wall Street Journal–The national representatives of the Republican Party seems to have completely lost the plot over the past few years. I liked this article’s summation of the party’s difficulties, as well as the suggestions it gives for bringing Conservatism into the 21st century:

 Liberals treasure the social liberation and growing cultural diversity of the past half-century but lament the economic dislocation, the loss of social solidarity and the rise in inequality. Conservatives celebrate the economic liberalization and dynamism but lament the social instability, moral disorder, cultural breakdown and weakening of fundamental institutions and traditions. Part of Mr. Trump’s appeal has been that he basically laments it all—and thus unites the anxieties of those who see no real upside for themselves in the evolution of modern America.

But a politics of angry lamentation, whatever visceral appeal it may have, cannot look forward. America cannot afford a competition of barren nostalgias. We need a politics that builds on our strengths to address our weaknesses.


The Global Glut of Stored Time ,via The Reformed Broker–this short article, as well as it’s companion piece ‘Abundance’,contains a number of interesting concepts for making sense of the times we live in. The author’s premise is that we live in a time of unparalleled abundance, and that we have too much money and entertainment for our own good. Sounds like a good problem to have, right? The problem is that it’s inefficient, and we have no clue what to do with it all. Also, a new way to think about money:

“People work in order to convert their time into a unit of account,” he said. “We call that money, and it’s an invention that allows us to store time.” Most people have stored little or none. So when they receive money, they quickly purchase necessities; food, shelter, health care. “People who are able to save money inevitably purchase real estate, stocks, bonds – all of which are alternative vehicles for storing time.” One share of Google stores 30 hours of work for the average American, or 30 minutes of copying-and-pasting formation documents for the average hedge fund attorney. “Bill Gates has stored enough time to fund a 1bln person army for 20 years.”


The Best is The Last,via Benedict Evans–I feel Benedict Evans’ insight about innovation, that a technology is at its finest iteration right before it gets superseded by something else, is enlightening. It explains why laptops and PCs are so amazing and cheap even though some would say that technology is passé and on the verge of becoming secondary to mobile,  among other things. This essay uses the examples of airplanes and sailing vessels:

The point of this excursion into tech history is that a technology often produces its best results just when it’s ready to be replaced – it’s the best it’s ever been, but it’s also the best it could ever be. There’s no room for more optimization – the technology has run its course and it’s time for something new, and any further attempts at optimization produce something that doesn’t make much sense.

Are Your Chances of Having a Baby Boy or Girl Really A 50/50 Split?


This has to be a case of spending waaaay too much energy just to solve a simple problem.

Laying in bed the other morning unable to get back to sleep, I kept pondering the randomness of a baby’s gender. Is it really a random 50/50 possibility either way? After all,  the world population isn’t exactly even ( 3,477,829,638  men to 3,418,059,380  women in 2010, according to The Internet). And a lot of families with more than one child seem skewed to one gender or another, almost as if they couldn’t have children of the other gender if they tried.

So I used my parents large families as an example. On the liquid marker board on my wall, I plotted the older generation of each family vertically and connected each of their bubbles horizontally to the bubbles representing their children. Below, I redrew the bubbles and flipped a coin for each one and recorded each coin tosses’ outcome by coloring each bubble either red or blue. Viewed in the aggregate, the results look strikingly similar. (The only 50/50 split come from my cousins on my mom’s side. Out of three sisters, one had two girls, the other a boy and a girl, while my mom had two boys.)

This also reveals something about probability that has isn’t exactly obvious: that a 50/50 chance doesn’t necessarily yield an even distribution of outcome in real life.


For more information, check out Wikipedia’s page on Human Sex Ratio.

Required Reading, Second Week of April 2016

Throughout the week, I read a LOT of online articles. What follows are the two I found most interesting:

Why Most People Don’t Learn From Their Mistakes, via Maneatingrobot–This blog post by Shane Snow is the shortcomings inherent in the cliche “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” As he says, “What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger if it puts you in a lifelong coma.”:

Researchers interviewed 500 prisoners about how they felt about their crimes, and then kept tabs on them after release to see whether they ended up re-committing similar crimes. The researchers catalogued the prisoners in two categories: those who felt guilt and those who felt shame. Guilt means that you feel badly for your actions. Shame means that you feel badly about who you are.

Though guilt and shame sound like similar emotions, they proved highly predictive of the ex-cons’ future behavior. Prisoners who felt guilty for what they’d done tended to do better post-parole; they focused on the actions they could do differently since it was their own actions that got them locked up in the first place. Prisoners who felt shame tended to blame their circumstances in order to preserve their self-esteem—both regarding their crimes and in their general lives—and so they didn’t actually learn from the mistakes and continued on to lives of crime later. Many in the “shame” category ended up back in the slammer.


The Voyeur’s Motel, via The New Yorker–Here is a long expose about a man who purchases a motel in Aurora, Colorado in order to fulfill a lifelong ambition: to be able to spy on the personal lives of strangers. Over the years, this man is witness to all shades of depravity and tedium and has finally gone public with his story. Perhaps, in a way, we’re all voyeurs:

A voyeur is motivated by anticipation; he invests endless hours in the hope of seeing what he wishes to see. Yet for every erotic episode he witnesses he is also privy to hundreds of mundane moments representing the ordinary daily human routine—people channel-surfing, snoring, urinating, primping, and doing other things too tediously real for reality television.