Happy Birthday, Albert

Is Albert even a real German name, I wonder. Sounds English to me. Like the name of a character in a Wodehouse novel. Einstein should have had a good German first name. I know Germans with authentic German names — Karl, Ludwig, Hermann, Amadeus, Bodo, Arnold, Dieter, Konrad, Dagmar.

Anyway, today is Albert Einstein’s birth anniversary. Born in Ulm in Germany on March 14, 1879, he died on April 18, 1955 in Plainsboro, NJ, USA.

I’ve been to many places Einstein is associated with — including Ulm, Bern (Swiss Patent Office), Princeton NJ (Institute for Advanced Study), etc.

The US has this weird convention of writing dates as MM/DD instead of the DD/MM which the rest of the world follows. So today is 3/14 in the US but it is 14/3 elsewhere. One gets used to it, just like you get used to flicking switches up to turn them on, whereas (say, in India) switches are turned on by flicking them down. Fortunately, we do drive on the right side of the road, both literally and figuratively.

So today is considered pi day in the US. Happy Birthday, dear Albert. And Happy Pi-Day to you.

Related post: Einstein — the physics giant and the economics dwarf.


The internet reveals to me more than anything else how little I know about the world compared to how much others know. And how intelligent, wise, wealthy, famous, accomplished, and spectacularly talented some others are. In short, granted that I learn a lot through the internet, the unfortunate side-effect is that it gives me an inferiority complex.

Perhaps it’s not a complex; the blunt fact is that I am objectively inferior to those superstars on the internet. But if I set aside my ego, I am genuinely grateful that I live in a world with the world wide web.

I think YouTube is one of the best parts of the web. Over the years I have subscribed to dozens of channels. I spend lots of delightful hours on them. I have many favorite personalities. Such as? Stephen Fry, Christopher Hitchens, to name just two. Continue reading “Hitchens”

Abraham Lincoln

A young Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was the 16th president of the United States, serving from March 1861 to April 1865. He was a complex character. Many have argued that he was the greatest US president.  I greatly respect and admire him, though I don’t agree with a couple of his major decisions.

He was a physical giant: 6 foot 4 inches tall. (Remember, at that time the average American male was probably 5 foot 7 inches.) And he was a mental giant. I was deeply moved by his Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address is a speech that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery … in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated Confederate forces in the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War’s deadliest battle. It remains one of the best known speeches in American history

Here’s a bit about Lincoln’s speech in The Civil War documentary by Ken Burns. Continue reading “Abraham Lincoln”

Gandhi Matters – 1

Gandhi matters enormously and he is rightly considered the “Father of the Nation.” That of course means that Gandhi is to a very large degree responsible for what India became (or failed to become) after India’s independence from the British raj.

I haven’t always been a critic of Gandhi. Like the overwhelmingly large percentage of Indians, I uncritically accepted the idea that he was a “a great soul”, a mahatma. Mind you, Mahatma became his de facto first name, not the middle name. I was taught in school that he gave freedom to India, and I believed that to be true. Indians owed their freedom to him, and therefore he should be venerated, if not worshiped by all, and not just Indians. Continue reading “Gandhi Matters – 1”

Game of Life

The great big game of life has a surprising counterpart in a cellular automata developed by John Conway in the 1960’s. It’s called “Game of Life.”

The gif on the left is an instance of the game. It’s called Gosper’s glider gun. Lucky for us, we can download Conway’s game from the google store.

John Conway was a mathematical genius. Born in England, he did most of work in Princeton University. I first came across Conway’s Game of Life during my graduate studies in computer science.  It was featured in Martin Gardner’s Scientific American column “Mathematical Games.”[1] Continue reading “Game of Life”

Laws of Motion

If you are trained in elementary physics and in basic calculus, you’d recognize the image above as summarizing Newton’s laws of motion in simple mathematical equations. The wiki explains:

Newton’s laws of motion are three basic laws of classical mechanics that describe the relationship between the motion of an object and the forces acting on it. These laws can be paraphrased as follows: Continue reading “Laws of Motion”

Economists’ Quotes

About quotations, the German-born American actress Marlene Dietrich said, “I love them, because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognizedly wiser than oneself.”

I agree with her. I love quotations and collect them assiduously. They are valuable because they encapsulate ideas and thoughts that I have had but expressed better than I ever can.

Since being an economist is my vocation as well as my avocation, I like to keep bits of writings of real economists. Here are a few that I hope you would like. If you find any of them puzzling, or if they lead you to questions, I’d be happy to expand on them. Feel free to ask me anything. Continue reading “Economists’ Quotes”

The World in 2036 – Nassim Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an awesomely successful investor, public intellectual and author of many best sellers. The wiki page on NNT says that–

“Taleb criticized the risk management methods used by the finance industry and warned about financial crises, subsequently profiting from the late-2000s financial crisis. He advocates what he calls a “black swan robust” society, meaning a society that can withstand difficult-to-predict events. He proposes what he has termed “antifragility” in systems; that is, an ability to benefit and grow from a certain class of random events, errors, and volatility as well as “convex tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery, by which he means that decentralized experimentation outperforms directed research.”

The Economist published a brief piece by him in 2010 titled, “The World in 2036: Nassim Taleb looks at what will break, and what won’t .” It has aged pretty well, and I suspect that he’s largely accurate. Here it is.
Continue reading “The World in 2036 – Nassim Taleb”

A Lee Kuan Yew Anthology

Recently, Mr Zane Austen assembled “The Comprehensive Lee Kuan Yew Anthology” (PDF, 200MB.) I quickly scanned through the over 12,000 pages. For people like me who think that LKY was one of the greatest  benefactors of humanity in the 20th century CE, it is a good reference work. (Hat tip: @smjalageri via twitter.)

Stephen Fry

I confess that I have strong likes and dislikes in almost everything — concrete or abstract. That goes for people as well. Of course, I have my economist heroes — Hayek, Buchanan, Friedman, et al — and anti-heroes (who shall remain unnamed.) Among politicians, my greatest hero was Lee Kuan Yew and the greatest villain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

I began to think about this today because a friend told me that Nassim  Nicolas Taleb considers Edward Snowden to be a fraud. I liked NNT’s book Antifragile. He’s obviously very intelligent and highly opinionated (which is a good thing, in my opinion), has enough “f u money”, and is widely celebrated as an intellectual. But he’s often needlessly mean and vicious to people. Continue reading “Stephen Fry”

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