Saturday, March 31, 2018


Skepticism gets a bum rap because it tends to be associated with negative character traits.  Someone who disagrees could be considered "disagreeable."   Someone who dissents may be creating "dissension."  Maybe part of it is that "skeptical" sounds like "cynical."  Yet true skepticism is consistent with good manners, civil discourse, and friendly communications.
     Skepticism is about approaching the world by asking why things might not be true rather than why they are true.  It's a recognition that, while there is an objective truth, everything we believe about the world is not true.  Thinking in bets embodies skepticism by encouraging us to examine what we do and don't know and what our level of confidence is in our beliefs and predictions.  This moves us closer to what is objectively true.

-Annie Duke,  Thinking In Bets:  Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts


Into every life some rain must fall.  Went down to the Old School this morning to unlock the front door for the drywall finishers and to check on a few things.   When empty, it is generally a very quiet building, but not this morning.  About halfway down the main corridor, I became aware of an unusual dull roar.  Uh-oh.   Following the sound to the former boiler room, I was greeted by about three feet of water on the lower level floor and several high pressure sprays of water.  The new 2" water meter was installed yesterday.  Sometime in the early morning hours, the gasket on the meter failed and water did what water does.  There is nothing wrong with the City of Newark's water pressure.

We were fortunate in many regards.  The electricians had hoped to energize the main electric panel on Thursday, but didn't because AEP wasn't ready yet.  We are about a week away from framing the lower level.   Neither of those improvements would benefit from getting soaked, and they would have.   Also, if the gasket had blown tonight, with no one scheduled to be in the building tomorrow, the flooding would have continued for hours more and spread out of the basement onto the main floor.  That would have made a serious mess.  We dodged a bullet.

Interesting conclusion:  The plumber showed up about 12 minutes after I called him.  Within a half hour he had a pump set up to drain the water out of the basement.  Within an hour, the fire department showed up.  One of our neighbors, seeing water gushing from the pump, called 911 and the fire department was dispatched.  It is comforting to know that people are paying attention.

Camera phone doesn't do justice to the water flow

It's supposed to be a living room, not a swimming pool

High water marks

The way of the world..................

"We don't process information independent of the way we wish the world to be."

-Annie Duke

Conflicts of interest..........................

Back in the 1960's, the scientific community was at odds about whether sugar or fat was the culprit in the increasing rates of heart disease.  In 1967, three Harvard scientists conducted a comprehensive review of the research to date, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that firmly pointed the finger at fat as the culprit.  The paper was, not surprisingly, influential in the debate on diet and heart disease.  After all, the NEJM is and was a prestigious publication and the researchers were, all three, from Harvard.  Blaming fat and exonerating sugar affected the dies of hundreds of millions of people for decades, a belief that caused a massive shift in eating habits that has been linked to the massive increase in obesity rates and diabetes.
     The influence of this paper and its negative effects on America's eating habits and health provides a stunning demonstration of the imperative of disinterestedness.  It was recently discovered that a trade group representing the sugar industry had paid the three Harvard scientists to write the paper, according to an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine in September 2016.  Not surprisingly, consistent with the agenda of the sugar industry that had paid them, the researchers attacked the methodology of studies finding a link between sugar and heart disease and defended studies finding no link.  The scientists' attacks on and defenses of the methodology of studies on fat and heart disease followed the same pro-sugar pattern.
     The scientists involved are all dead.  Were they alive, it's possible, if we could ask them, that they may not have even consciously known they were being influenced.  Given human nature, they likely, at least, would have defended the truth of what they wrote and denied that the sugar industry dictated or influenced their thinking on the subject.  Regardless, had the conflict of interest been disclosed, the scientific community would have viewed their conclusions with much more skepticism, taking into account the possibility of bias due to the researchers' financial interest.  At the time, the NEJM did not require such disclosures.  (That policy changed in 1984.)    That omission prevented an accurate assessment of their findings, resulting in serious harm to the health of the nation.

-Annie Duke, Thinking In Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts

Calibration and accountability.................

We don't win bets by being in love with our own ideas.  We win bets by relentlessly striving to calibrate our beliefs and predictions about the future to more accurately represent the world.   In the long run, the more objective person will win against the more biased person.  In that way, betting is a form of accountability to accuracy.  Calibration requires an open-minded consideration of diverse points of view and alternative hypotheses.

-Annie Duke,  Thinking In Bets:  Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts

Fifty years ago......................

The Temptations..............................................................Cloud Nine

Thursday, March 29, 2018

First you fix the roof......................

Faithful readers will remember that we are in the middle of renovating the old Newark High School, converting it into 29 apartment units.  We learned a long time ago that the first step in fixing an old building is to replace the roof.   All roofs, especially flat roofs, leak.  It is just a matter of when.   At the time we bought the building there were no roof leaks.  A year ago, there were.  Fixed that:

The original roof

The original vent stacks, no longer serving their useful purpose, all had to go away

The roof is not all flat.  There is a significant amount of slate.   Fortunately,
the 80 year old slate is in pretty good condition.    We did need to replace
all the flashing and ridge caps

A source of one of the leaks

The original roof system was comprised of a concrete deck, covered by wood
sheeting, covered by a  tar and felt paper "built up"  system, covered by
stone ballast.   Lasted a long time.

Rebuilding the parapet walls and replacing a lot of rotten wood decking

More of same

The rebuilt roof accessway

Fixing the parapet walls and adding cant strips

The almost finished product.   It will be finished once the plumbers and HVAC
folks complete all the roof penetrations they need, and all that work gets
properly flashed in.


If I am doing my sums correctly, Lee Child has published twenty-three Jack Reacher books (one of which is a collection of short stories).  As you might expect, some are better than others.  His good ones, though, are really good.   The Midnight Line is in that category.   Enjoy.

Fifty years ago..................................

Frank Sinatra................................By The Time I Get To Phoenix


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ever have one of those days..........?

A brief discussion........................

............on tariffs and the "least harm principle".   Wee excerpt here:

I first formulated the principle my senior year at Swarthmore Colleg, which was when the Lettuce Boycott became the cause du jour on campus. Some of my fellow econ majors wanted to raise objections to the left’s insistence that the dining hall only serve union-picked lettuce. I suggested that we should not bother, since there were so many bigger issues around. “It’s the least significant issue they could have chosen. We should be happy that this is what they are focused on. Call it the least-harm principle of knee-jerk liberalism.”

I've tried to operate on the premise.........

...........that parenting was about giving the kids roots and wings.

... what will they do to keep from getting it?

The Execupudit returns to the theme of self-sabotage.

Fifty years ago...............................

Tommy James & the Shondells.......................................Mony Mony

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

So, Rob reminds me........................

..................that I missed Robert Frost's birthday  - again.   Faithful readers may remember that Frost's Two Tramps in Mud Time is my all-time favorite poem, but today, in the interest of diversity, I offer you The Star-splitter:

"You know Orion always comes up sideways. 
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains, 
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me 
Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something 
I should have done by daylight, and indeed, 
After the ground is frozen, I should have done 
Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful 
Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney 
To make fun of my way of doing things, 
Or else fun of Orion's having caught me. 
Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights 
These forces are obliged to pay respect to?" 
So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk 
Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming, 
Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming, 
He burned his house down for the fire insurance 
And spent the proceeds on a telescope 
To satisfy a lifelong curiosity 
About our place among the infinities. 

"What do you want with one of those blame things?" 
I asked him well beforehand. "Don't you get one!" 

"Don't call it blamed; there isn't anything 
More blameless in the sense of being less 
A weapon in our human fight," he said. 
"I'll have one if I sell my farm to buy it." 
There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground 
And plowed between the rocks he couldn't move, 
Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years 
Trying to sell his farm and then not selling, 
He burned his house down for the fire insurance 
And bought the telescope with what it came to. 
He had been heard to say by several: 
"The best thing that we're put here for's to see; 
The strongest thing that's given us to see with's 
A telescope. Someone in every town 
Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one. 
In Littleton it may as well be me." 
After such loose talk it was no surprise 
When he did what he did and burned his house down. 

Mean laughter went about the town that day 
To let him know we weren't the least imposed on, 
And he could wait—we'd see to him tomorrow. 
But the first thing next morning we reflected 
If one by one we counted people out 
For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long 
To get so we had no one left to live with. 
For to be social is to be forgiving. 
Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us, 
We don't cut off from coming to church suppers, 
But what we miss we go to him and ask for. 
He promptly gives it back, that is if still 
Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of. 
It wouldn't do to be too hard on Brad 
About his telescope. Beyond the age 
Of being given one for Christmas gift, 
He had to take the best way he knew how 
To find himself in one. Well, all we said was 
He took a strange thing to be roguish over. 
Some sympathy was wasted on the house, 
A good old-timer dating back along; 
But a house isn't sentient; the house 
Didn't feel anything. And if it did, 
Why not regard it as a sacrifice, 
And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire, 
Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction? 

Out of a house and so out of a farm 
At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn 
To earn a living on the Concord railroad, 
As under-ticket-agent at a station 
Where his job, when he wasn't selling tickets, 
Was setting out up track and down, not plants 
As on a farm, but planets, evening stars 
That varied in their hue from red to green. 

He got a good glass for six hundred dollars. 
His new job gave him leisure for stargazing. 
Often he bid me come and have a look 
Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside, 
At a star quaking in the other end. 
I recollect a night of broken clouds 
And underfoot snow melted down to ice, 
And melting further in the wind to mud. 
Bradford and I had out the telescope. 
We spread our two legs as it spread its three, 
Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it, 
And standing at our leisure till the day broke, 
Said some of the best things we ever said. 
That telescope was christened the Star-Splitter, 
Because it didn't do a thing but split 
A star in two or three the way you split 
A globule of quicksilver in your hand 
With one stroke of your finger in the middle. 
It's a star-splitter if there ever was one, 
And ought to do some good if splitting stars 
'Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood. 

We've looked and looked, but after all where are we? 
Do we know any better where we are, 
And how it stands between the night tonight 
And a man with a smoky lantern chimney? 
How different from the way it ever stood?

Frame change........................

     Being in an environment where the challenge of a bet is always looming works to reduce motivated reasoning.  Such an environment changes the frame through which we view disconfirming information, reinforcing the frame change that our truthseeking group rewards.  Evidence that might contradict a belief we hold is no longer viewed through as hurtful a frame.  Rather, it is viewed as helpful because it can improve our chances of making a better bet.

-Annie Duke,  Thinking In Bets:  Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All The Facts

Ed. Note:   Duke defines "motivated reasoning" as essentially only paying attention to evidence which confirms our existing beliefs.

in the service of optimizing.................

Although both confirmatory thought and exploratory thought can be high-cognitive-effort responses to accountability, they differ in important ways. Whereas confirmatory thought involves a one-sided attempt to rationalize a particular point of view, exploratory thought involves even-handed consideration of alternative points of view. In short, although both exploratory and confirmatory thought can be effortful, one takes place in the service of self-justification whereas the other takes place in the service of optimizing a judgment/decision. 

-Philip Tetlock and Jennifer Lerner, as extracted from this research work


Fifty years ago.....................

Diana Ross (and the Supremes)......................................Love Child


Monday, March 26, 2018

All modes..............................

“The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”

-John Stuart Mill,  On Liberty

On skin in the game...................

"There is no problem if people have a conflict of interest if it is congruous with downside risk for themselves."

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb,  Skin In The Game:  Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

A risk................................

On self-compassion......................

       You've heard both sides:  Overconfidence makes you feel good, gives you grit, and impresses others - but can also make you an arrogant jerk who alienates people, doesn't improve, and possibly loses everything because of denial.  Being less confident gives you the drive and tools to become an expert and makes other people like you ... but it doesn't feel so good and can send a lousy signal to others about your competency.
     Kinda sucks, doesn't it?  Seems like there's no easy answer.  You can impress people and make them angry or have them like you but not respect you.  It feels like a contradiction.  So how about this:  What if you throw the whole confidence paradigm in the trash?
     Don't scream heresy just yet.  Plenty of research shows that looking through the lens of self-esteem might be the real reason the debate over confidence is so fraught with grief.  But what's the alternative to self-confidence?  University of Texas professor Kristin Neff says it's "self-compassion."  Compassion for yourself when you fail means you don't have to be a delusional jerk to succeed and you don't have to feel incompetent to improve.  You get off the yo-yo experience of absurd expectations and beating yourself up when you don't meet them.  You stop lying to yourself that you're so awesome.  Instead, you focus on forgiving yourself when you're not.

-Eric Barker,  Barking Up The Wrong Tree:  The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong

On compassion............................

“Compassion is, by definition, relational. Compassion literally means “to suffer with,” which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering. The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect.”

-Kristin Neff

Fifty years ago.......................

Bobby Goldsboro...........................................................Honey

Sunday, March 25, 2018


 “Part of what you must learn is how to handle mistakes and new facts that change the odds. Life, in part, is like a poker game, wherein you have to learn to quit sometimes when holding a much loved hand.” 

-Charlie Munger


     It takes a man a long time to learn all the lessons of all his mistakes.  They say there are two sides to everything.  But there is only one side to the stock market; and it is not the bull side or the bear side, but the right side.   It took  me longer to get that general principle fixed firmly in my mind than it did most of the more technical phases of the game of stock speculation.

-Edwin LeFevre,   Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Fifty years ago.............................

The Temptations..............................................I Wish It Would Rain