Douwe Osinga's Blog: November 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Picasa Webalbums Face Recognition Rocks

Picasa's Webalbums has this newish feature to recognize faces and it is pretty awesome. You make it run over your photo's and then it lets you match up faces it found with your contacts. I only today used for the first time and I am impressed. Nice example of Clarke Third Law, that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

In the same vein I suppose that glitches in that sort of technology show that after all it is technology and not magic. If you can fool birds into believing a scare crow is a man, what can you make Picasa believe? I had the photo below in my web album, from last winter when me, my brother, our wives and their children build the best igloo ever in Switzerland.

The wind had picked up ice blocks from the Sihl See and put them all in one corner - excellent building material. With the left over material we build a snow man, because, well snow men is what you build in the Netherlands if there is snow.

Picasa Webalbums liked our snow man. Enough to offer it under the section of clearly recognized faces. Unfortunately I don't have a matching contact and fear the man has deceased since.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Broken Window Theory

When the movers came and brought our stuff to Sydney, they also brought my bicycle. Sydney isn’t the bike friendliest of places, but it isn’t that bad as long as you avoid the roads where cars will hunt you and stick to the pavements where you can hunt the pedestrians. Ah, but where to park?

We actually did get a parking space with our apartment, but then we wanted to rent that one out, so that didn’t seem like a long term solution. In Zurich we had a bike cellar, but then in Amsterdam we didn’t – I just parked outside and in the last 7 years there were no incidents, so why not try that. My wife said the bike would be stolen since there are no other bikes on the street in Sydney. I said that it wouldn’t since if there are no bikes, there won’t be bike thieves either. I was right. At first.

The first three weeks everything went fine. I didn’t use the a lot since I only live three minutes walk away from work, but in the morning it was there. Then one Sunday morning one break cable was torn. And there was a sticky note on it reading “I want to have sex with you, Google!” (there was a Google logo on the bike).

I removed the yellow note (no phone number) but a week later my saddle was stolen! I tried to unlock the bike now since it clearly wasn’t safe anymore, but the lock was stuck and I decided to that a little later with some oil. I didn’t of course. Two days later when I came home my saddle was gone. When I left the next morning for work, the wheels had been taken too!

Now what do I do? Go to a bike repair shop and ask them to fix my bike by supplying half the parts? Luckily I didn’t have to figure that one out, because when I came back home the whole bike was gone. And that’s what they call the broken window theory.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death and Taxes. Correlated.

90% of creativity is misunderstanding, I sometimes think. Some the best ideas come when you hear something and think, wow, that's brilliant and later it turns out that they meant something else, but it was still a good idea. I think it works because your brain had been working on something similar and seeing it in print, it makes it go click, even if it is about something else.

Anyway, this isn't really brilliant, but still a nice example. I read the headline of this article Death & Taxes Poster. This is about a poster that shows the size of the expenditures of the US government on a poster. It doesn't show death at all

What I thought they had, was a poster that plotted life expectancy against the tax rate for various countries. The good news is that I can now make that poster. Me and the internet. So I quickly copy and pasted two tables of tax rates and life expectancy into a spreadsheet and had them correlated and then plotted the thing. You get this table:

And the graph below. Unfortunately the correlation isn't very strong. If I had had more time, I'm sure I could have massaged the numbers a little more, but I'll leave that to someone else. In general it seems that countries with higher taxes in general have higher life expectancies. Or really, the graph becomes more dense towards the higher taxes. In other words, it is possible to have low taxes and high life expectancy, but almost all countries with high taxes have also high life expectancy.

Make of it what you want. Oh the x-range is the (highest) income tax-rate. The y-range is the male life-expectancy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

In defense of colonialism

We’re just back from a quick trip to Hong Kong for a wedding. Hong Kong is an impressive city in many ways. Here you have this most unmerciful capitalistic society of all with lots of public green and excellent public transport. The world freest economy ruled by the communists in Beijing. Most of all I think Hong Kong shows the wonderful results of mixing two cultures, in this case British and Chinese. Not withstanding all the cruelty and unfairness of British rule, it shows that colonialism can have it good effects too, I think.

I think we should bring it back. Not the canon boat type of the nineteenth century, more something akin to the Greek colonies. A bunch of people go somewhere else, build a city in a country with a different culture and the exchange of ideas and customs makes everybody richer. Maybe a better way of describing this would be country franchises. The Netherlands would for example build a city in the United States, but as part of the Netherlands, just like an embassy.

Dutch companies or persons that want to operate close to the US, but not under US law for whatever reason, could settle there. If there is enough demand for something like that, then a Dutch colony in the US would clearly enrich the US. If not, well, then there is nothing special on offer.

Saudi Arabia could build a city in the Netherlands with Sharia law. If it turned out that that would really work much better it might inspire people in the Netherlands to do the same. People in the Netherlands that believe it works much better could try to move there. If it turns out that it doesn’t work so well, then that would be clearly visible too.

Something like that would make the exchange of ideas between countries much easier and allow citizens to vote with their feet without changing continents.