Archive for March, 2009

on capital

Ages ago, when somebody tried to explain to me the concept of “capital”, it was the version probably most people have heard of: a factor that creates more productive value, or maybe some good that is used in production of other goods, something along those lines. Then you get some examples of “capital” like a tool, a machine, a car… then you hear it’s contrasted with consumptive raw material, non-productive land resource, labor, etc. etc. I always thought it was completely vague and incomprehensible. What things are capital? Why is a tool capital, for example? I’ve got plenty of tools sitting around doing nothing of value most of the time, and when I use them I never produce anything.

Later I realized this was a stupid way of explaining it (or I was just stupid at the time). Capital isn’t a “thing”, it isn’t the physical object at all, it is the usage. Whether something is capital is completely determined by intention, that is, how it is intended to be used, hence the vague definition.

For example a $100 bill, depending on how it is used, can be a consumptive good, a store of value, or capital. If you burn the paper money as offering to the gods, it is a consumptive good. If you keep it under the mattress to buy stuff later, it is a store of value. If you invest it by putting it to use in a productive venture or lending it to somebody whom you expect to do so, then it becomes capital. It’s the same $100 bill, the only difference is intention…
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death of Encarta

Here’s an interesting article about the shutting down of Encarta, the Microsoft published encyclopedia product, and implications for the media/information/publishing landscape at large.

At first, I thought it was the CD version that was being shut down, but no, it’s the online version; apparently the former, along with many Microsoft Home products (some were classics), had long been discontinued. Incidentally, I’ve used the CD product, but never the online product — I’ve been aware of it because it comes up in searches, but since it’s just the CD version put online, I’m not surprised it is meeting the same fate. It just goes to show that whatever process is driving traditional publishing into the ground is rather far along.
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on 80 points (bashifen), aka tractor (tuolaji), aka double rise (shuangsheng)

This is a popular card game of the 5-10-K class played in China, the rules of which are described in English here, but not in a generalizable way. Another version on Wikipedia makes logical sense but isn’t how I’ve seen it in practice. In any case, like for many card and board games, the rules are not described in a proper way for the new player and that’s annoying (some rules are not important or obvious, other rules are important but obscure, etc.). I remember in the help files of say, MS Hearts, they follow a four-section template of: (0) basics, (1) goal of the game, (2) playing the game, and (3) strategy; in that order, which I think is the perfect logic that should be used for describing all games. Why nobody wants to explain a relatively simple game as this except by enumeration of examples is a mystery to me, so here goes:

The game is played with two joker-included decks of cards. 5, 10, and K are point cards worth face value, except K is worth 10 points. It is a standard 4-player partnership game, so a person and his cross is a team. It is played in multiple rounds and each round there is a dealer (hence a “dealer” team and an opposing “grabber” team). Each team keeps a “level” represented by a card rank (i.e. 2,3,…,A), and each round is associated with the dealer’s level, whose corresponding rank cards are called the level cards.
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eggs, white on the outside, yellow on the inside?

Nah, a bit of an exaggeration. If I didn’t remember wrongly, these people are relatives of a friend … the fact that the uncomfortably awkward interview is in English for a Chinese audience is a little bizarre, but the fact that the interviewee has a tiny bit of Chinese accent in English and a tiny bit of English accent in Chinese is cute.

P.S. There was a bit of miscommunication on the character 芦, which she apparently didn’t recognize. Yeah, taxonomical vocabulary is usually not learned well by non-native speakers (that stuff is learned before age 5 and then don’t come up any more), but 葫芦 is common, come on.

classical period music on classical period instrument

Melvyn Tan plays the same Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 23 discussed here on the fortepiano with, I believe, non-equal temperament tuning, too. This is quite amazing, with its clarity and register color contrast that can only be approached with deliberate care in that video by Barenboim. This recording actually makes the second movement make sense finally.
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What is quantitative easing

When I first looked this up last year, no good explanation came about, so let me explain in my own words.
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saving vs. consumption as default actions

Lately, for good reason, there has been many advice columns telling people how to plan for personal financial goals. It always used to boggle my mind when I heard exhortations to save, where “save” is used in the sense of an action among which to choose, parallel to things like “invest” or “work”. Until I realized, some years back, that to save is a parallel action of choice to some.
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Cryptic comment on A- vs. H-shares valuation gap

This Bloomberg article brings to our attention that

Shares in the yuan-denominated CSI 300 Index traded at 16.2 times earnings this month, compared with 8.6 times for 43 mainland companies in Hong Kong.

and that

The average gain in China is 23 percent this year, while the same companies are down 4.8 percent in Hong Kong, … China is among three of the four so-called BRICs economies where local shares are providing bigger returns than are available to foreigners … Russia’s Micex index, up 21 percent in rubles since Dec. 31, gained 2.5 percent when measured in dollars. A 9.2 percent decline in India’s Sensitive Index widens to 14 percent in dollars. The exception is Brazil, where the Bovespa Index has risen 5.7 percent, versus a 3.9 percent gain in reals.

The A-shares have always been overvalued compared to the H-shares, when measured against any benchmark currency and people have puzzled over this for a long time. The article itself offers two explanations
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on analogic reality

I was on UK’s Daily Mail newspaper web site and suddenly this thing caught my eye. It was a flash ad promoting the newspaper, a veritable montage of “interesting things” that, through implication, the newspaper reported on. This is very common on local TV stations, which promote themselves this way. Innocuous enough, except I thought … wait a minute, isn’t this the infamous Kingdome implosion?

Sure enough, it was, and you can see it on Youtube.

Some local Seattle event is a bit far from the UK, and sure enough the Daily Mail never reported on this back in the day so far as I can tell. A bit of artistic liberty, surely, but perhaps there is more to it.
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sleep … and a smart alarm honor of the stupidity that is Daylight Savings Time, I’ll write about sleep.

First, this watch seems pretty interesting. It is based on the idea that if you’re never going to get enough hours of sleep a night anyway, then you are best to get a full number of sleep cycles, rather than a fractional one. So it tracks your sleep cycle and wakes you up when you’re most awake.

This reminds me of my general annoyance with the whole concept of sleep and the inefficiency it causes. Sleep has got to be one of the worst vestigial devices still left in humans, although not as bad as the appendix.

Years ago, I came across a blog in which the person was trying out the concept of polyphasic sleep, which is basically napping frequently for short periods each time. The idea was to save total amount of time slept, I guess, or to make sleep more efficient. I guess it worked out well enough to cause a whole bunch of fanatical people to try it.
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