Decimal Points Matter

From a story in Bloomberg today:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) is being sued by a trader who says he accepted a contract from the investment bank because a typographical error made him believe he would be paid 10 times what was actually offered.

Kai Herbert, a Switzerland-based currency trader, is suing JPMorgan for about 580,000 pounds ($920,000), his lawyers said at a trial in London this week. The original contract said Herbert’s annual pay would be 24 million rand ($3.1 million). JPMorgan blamed the mistake on a typographical error and said the figure should have been 2.4 million rand, according to court documents.

Who should win the lawsuit?

Margaret Atwood on Twitter

Margaret Atwood is one of the most popular authors who’s an active user of Twitter. In this fantastic New York Review of Books post, she muses on Twitter’s personality and her evolution as a Twitterer:

[O]n Twitter you find yourself doing all sorts of things you wouldn’t otherwise do. And once you’ve entered the Enchanted E-Forest, lured in there by cute bunnies and playful kittens, you can find yourself wandering around in it for quite some time. You might even find yourself climbing the odd tree—the very odd tree—or taking refuge in the odd hollow log—the very odd hollow log—because cute bunnies and playful kittens are not the only things alive in the mirkwoods of the Web. Or the webs of the mirkwoods. Paths can get tangled there. Plots can get thickened. Games are afoot.

On Margaret Atwood’s early days on Twitter:

When I first started Twittering, back in 2009—you can read about my early adventures in a NYRblog post I wrote two years ago—I was, you might say, merely capering on the flower-bestrewn fringes of the Twitterwoods. All was jollity, with many a pleasantry being exchanged. True, some of those doing the exchanges represented themselves in masks, or as pairs of feet, or as rubber ducks, or as onions, or as dogs—quite a few dogs. But having had an early career in puppetry and a somewhat later phase during which I amused small children by giving voices to the salt and pepper shakers, I was aware of the fact that anything can talk if you want it to. My Twitter friends were not only sportive but helpful, informing me about Twitpic, letting me in on the secrets of acronyms such as “LMAO,” analyzing the etymology and deep symbolic meaning of “squee,” and teaching me to make many an emoticon, such as the vampire face, represented thus: >:>} (Though other vampire-face options are available.) They led me to extra-Twitter adventures: a live chat on DeviantArt, a website where I found the cover for my book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. To this day I rely on my Twitter followers for arcane information, most recently some updates on the vernacular speech of the young. Who knew that “sick” is the new “awesome,” and that “epic” is the rightful substitute for “amazing?” Twitter knew.

As I like to say: Twitter is what you make of it.

Georgia Lottery Players, Also Known as Suckers

The lottery players in the state of Georgia are the biggest suckers in a nation buying more than $50 billion a year in tickets for state-run games, which have the worst odds of any form of legal gambling.

According to Bloomberg:

Georgia residents spent an average $470.73 on the lottery in 2010, or 1 percent of their personal income, while they received the sixth-highest prize payouts, 63 cents for each dollar spent, the Sucker Index shows. Only Massachusetts had higher spending, $860.70 per adult, more than three times the U.S. average.

Georgia had per capita income of $34,800 in 2010, below the national average of $39,945, while Massachusetts’s was higher at $51,302, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Massachusetts players were the biggest lottery winners, getting back almost 72 cents on the dollar, according to the data compiled by Bloomberg. That state still places second on the Sucker Index because spending as a percentage of personal income is the most, at 1.3 percent.

So how does the Sucker Index work? Bloomberg took the total spent on ticket sales in each state and subtracted the amount of lottery prizes awarded. The difference was divided by the total personal income of each state’s residents. Georgia was at the top (or bottom, depending on how you view it) of the list.

Conclusion: if the saying “There’s a sucker born every minute” holds any merit, there’s a very good chance he is living in Georgia.

Finding Waldo with Mathematica

For those of you who are fans of Finding Waldo and have a bit of a nerdy side to you, you’ll appreciate that someone figured out how to find Waldo using Mathematica:

Finding Waldo with the help of Mathematica.

The author describes his technique and provides the relevant code:

First, I’m filtering out all colours that aren’t red

waldo = Import["http://www.findwaldo.com/fankit/graphics/IntlManOfLiterature/Scenes/DepartmentStore.jpg"]; 
red = Fold[ImageSubtract, #[[1]], Rest[#]] &@ColorSeparate[waldo]; 

Next, I’m calculating the correlation of this image with a simple black and white pattern to find the red and white transitions in the shirt.

corr = ImageCorrelate[red,    Image@Join[ConstantArray[1, {2, 4}], 
ConstantArray[0, {2, 4}]],    NormalizedSquaredEuclideanDistance]; 

I use Binarize to pick out the pixels in the image with a sufficiently high correlation

and draw white circle around them to emphasize them using Dilation

pos = Dilation[ColorNegate[Binarize[corr, .12]], DiskMatrix[30]]; 

I had to play around a little with the level. If the level is too high, too many false positives are picked out.

Finally I’m combining this result with the original image to get the result above

found = ImageMultiply[waldo, ImageAdd[ColorConvert[pos, "GrayLevel"], .5]]

Amazing.

###

(via Kottke)

World’s Longest (And Most Expensive) Taxi Ride

Over the past 13 months, Paul Archer Archer and two college buddies, Leigh Purnell, 24, and Johno Ellison, 28, have traveled more than 32,000 miles around the globe from London to New York in a hired London Black Cab—which they’ve christened Hannah. They want to set a new world record for world’s longest and most expensive taxi ride.

The previous record was a 21,691-mile, four-month taxi ride from London to Cape Town, South Africa, and back, set in 1994 by Jeremy Levine and Mark Aylett, of the U.K., and Carlos Arrese of Spain. That trip ran the meter up to $64,645.

The Wall Street Journal summarizes the trip so far:

Since leaving the U.K. in February last year, the team has plowed into a snow bank inside the Arctic Circle in Finland, dinged a fender on a lamppost in Dunhuang, China, blown the radiator at an Iraqi border crossing, dodged the Taliban, and ran afoul of police officers, military personnel and armed mercenaries from Moscow to Tehran to Texas.

They were also forced to take a thousand-mile detour around much of the Middle East during the height of the Arab Spring—avoiding Libya, Egypt and Syria for a “safer route” through Iraq, Iran and Pakistan…

By the completion of their trip, Paul Archer and his team will have traveled nearly 50,000 miles through 39 countries. They’ve already eclipsed the $100,000 barrier on their fare.

What an adventure they’re having!

How to Apologize

This is a very thoughtful post in which the author enumerates the elements of a good apology:

  1. I hear you.
  2. I am truly sorry.
  3. (semi-optional, depending on what happened) This is what went wrong.
  4. I am doing x to make sure this doesn’t happen again and y to make it right with you.
  5. Thank you. I appreciate the feedback.
#1 is crucial. The person or group you’re addressing has to know that you’ve heard their complaint and understand it. Apologies that lack this element sound cold and disconnected. And this is the main problem with Sqoot’s “others were offended.”  They aren’t speaking to the people they offended. This is just guaranteed to further piss people off.
 
#2 should be unconditional. Not “I’m sorry if you were offended.” Indeed, if you find yourself pushing the focus onto the people whom you pissed off at all, you may be sliding into non-apology territory. This isn’t about them—they’re mad because you made them mad. Note that a good apology is not defensive, and does not attempt to shift the blame, even if that blame belongs to an employee whom you’ve just fired.  If you did that, it’s part of #4, the “how I’m fixing it” part, not the “I’m sorry” part. Don’t try to save face in a genuine apology. Indicating that you meant no harm is fine, but if you’re apologizing, it means you caused harm regardless of your intent.
 
#3 is a bit more tricky. People want to know how this could have happened, but it doesn’t do to dwell on it too much, and this is another mistake Sqoot makes. They probably shouldn’t quote the line that made everyone mad (it will make the readers mad all over again). It would have been enough to say they put something stupid and sexist into an event page which they now regret. On the other hand, you do have to acknowledge what happened and not look like you’re trying to dodge it. So don’t go into excruciating detail about what went wrong with a customer’s order, for example. “I’m afraid you found a bug in our shopping cart” is probably enough detail. 
I could do a better job at offering unconditional apologies (element number 2 above).

The Dying Art of Conversation

In this piece in The Financial Times, John McDermott muses on the dying art of the conversation. He enrolled in a night class to get some pointers. First, he begins:

What makes a good conversationalist has changed little over the years. The basics remain the same as when Cicero became the first scholar to write down some rules, which were summarised in 2006 by The Economist: “Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.” But Cicero was lucky: he never went on a first date with someone more interested in their iPhone than his company.

What did McDermott seek from conversation?

My idea of a good conversationalist was an erudite entertainer. I had ambitions of learning how to host a good table. I had imagined finding out how to emulate Christopher Hitchens, quoting Yeats and quaffing scotch. But none of my new friends said they wanted to be a raconteur in the Coleridge or the Hitchens mould. Instead, there was a genuine, quiet determination to learn how to be better friends and better lovers. And to have a bit of fun on a Tuesday night. We were Boswells, not Johnsons.

I share McDermott’s sentiment. But what brought people together for this class wasn’t the desire to become better conversationalists. It was to connect with another human being, to hear their stories, to feel less lonely. He concludes:

For I had misjudged the evening, too. I was wrong to think of conversation primarily as a performance art, mastered by the likes of Coleridge and Hitchens. Indeed, conversation needn’t be anything. It needn’t have a purpose. The very act of talking and listening and learning is what my classmates sought.

And what about the lessons from the class to become a better conversationalist? Whittled down to the basics:

1. Be curious about others; 2. Take off your mask; 3. Empathise with others; 4. Get behind the job title; 5. Use adventurous openings; 6. Have courage.

Easier said (or written) than done. I suggest reading the piece to hear what other students used for their “adventurous openings.”

What do you think? Can one learn to become a better conversationalist? Is there technical skill one can perfect over time? Or is it more of an art than science?