Mathias Brandewinder on .NET, F#, VSTO and Excel development, and quantitative analysis / machine learning.
by Mathias 8. December 2009 13:58

How to value life is a thorny issue for economists and non-economists, but I hadn’t expected the question to be also a matter of lively discussion among dinosaurs. And considering the state of decision theory at the time, they do a pretty good job at it.

 comic2-1631

by Mathias 28. June 2009 12:41

I finished “The Drunkard’s Walk – how randomness rules our lives”, by Leonard Mlodinow, a few days after Sway; I have postponed writing about it, because a minor storm of work has hit my parts – but I really loved this book, and thought I should say a few words about it.

The book’s point is that humans are very bad at drawing conclusions from observations of random phenomena. They routinely make gross mistakes when dealing with conditional probability (92% of Americans, some of them with pretty solid mathematical credentials, get the Monty Hall problem wrong), and fall prey to the Law of Small Numbers, seeing patterns where there is none, and refusing to admit the importance of randomness in shaping our fates. In the end, the message is pretty upbeat – I loved this quote from Thomas Watson:

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.

I really enjoyed how the book builds up following the history of probability and statistics; some of the individuals who contributed to its development are truly remarkable (just lookup Cardano for instance), and the book contains a fair share of anecdotes about them. If anything, it gave me my first introduction to Benford’s law, which I am still digesting – and which has been weirdly prominent in the news, via the Iran election issue.

In short, I strongly recommend this book if you are interested in either history of sciences, probability, or decision making.

by Mathias 7. December 2008 20:42

The November issue of msdn magazine has a nice piece by Dr. James McCaffrey on determining a best option from a list of choices. It's an interesting departure from his usual topic, testing, and it proposes a discussion and implementation of the Schultze method. As far as I remember, Arrow's impossibility theorem demonstrates that

no voting system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide ranking while also meeting a certain set of reasonable criteria with three or more discrete options to choose from.

Therefore, I have to assume that there are limitations to this method. If I have time, I'll try to figure out in what cases these show up. However, the exposition of the problem is worth reading.

by Mathias 21. June 2008 11:13
Via ethics {for the real world}, I came across this post where William Baker looks back at his experience writing on business ethics for 18 months, and summarizes what he learnt in a list of 11 straightforward words of wisdom, which I reproduce as-is.
•    Profit never outweighs wrong.
•    The solution to a tricky ethical dilemma is often to just say “no.”
•    The best way to deal with a bad idea it to come up with a better one.
•    If your gut tells you something is wrong, it probably is. Listen to your instincts.
•    There are some work environments that you can’t fix, so dust off your resume.
•    You can’t blame anyone else if you get caught up in ethically questionable behavior. There are no victims when “no” is available.
•    Tolerating poor ethical behavior is just as bad as doing it yourself.
•    The ethical character of an organization is dictated from the top down. Establish an environment where employees know that cutting corners will not be tolerated, and they won’t.
•    Your own ethical character is tied in with the companies you do business with. Not all clients are good clients.
•    You are a citizen of humanity. Selfish goals cannot outweigh the greater good.
•    Writing down a code of conduct is a good thing. Establishing it by example is even better.
The second one sounds very true to me. What makes decision making difficult is usually not figuring out the right decision path, but rather getting ready to face the consequences.

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