Peak Pirate: Somali Pirates Running Out of Space

You have to hate when good things like this happen to perfectly evil pirates:

Hostage Oversupply in Somalia? Pirates Negotiate Better Deals to Free Up Space

Somali pirates may have reached their limit, at least for now. Security agencies have suggested that Somali pirates are willing to negotiate lower ransoms to release ships they have seized — because they are running out of room.

Somali pirates have made large swathes of the Indian Ocean a no-go area, but lately they’ve become victims of their own success. Security agencies report that pirate groups are more willing to negotiate the release of captured vessels lately — in large part, experts believe, because their ports at Haradheere, Eyl and Hobyo are choked up with ships.

It seems we’ve reached Peak Somali Pirate.


From Mad Cows to Crows

Interesting causal connections made in this paper from European mad cows to North American birds and crops. Turns out that European BSE outbreaks drove higher U.S. grassland bird populations.

Population trends of grassland birds in North America are linked to the prevalence of an agricultural epizootic in Europe


Globalization of trade has dramatic socioeconomic effects, and, intuitively, significant ecological effects should follow. However, few quantitative examples exist of the interrelationship of globalization, socioeconomics, and ecological patterns. We present a striking illustration of a cascade in which bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE; “mad cow disease”) outbreaks in Europe exerted pressure on global beef markets, subsequently affecting North American hayfields and grassland bird populations. We examined competing models, which linked the prevalence of BSE in five focal countries, volume of beef exports to those countries from North America, and the amount of hayfield harvested and the abundance of grassland birds in North America. We found that (i) imports from North America increased 1 y after BSE outbreaks; (ii) probably because fewer cattle remained, the hay harvest in North America was reduced 2 y after the outbreak; (iii) the reduced hay harvest yielded a positive response in grassland bird populations 3 y after the outbreak.


Ron Rivest on the History Growth of Cryptography

Ron Rivest on the history and growth of cryptography: “Maybe large prime numbers have a role to play in our democracy…”

Anthony Atala Prints a Human Kidney

One of my favorite talks from last week’s TED conference was this one by Antony Atala. A moving, smart and revelatory talk that builds as it goes. Super stuff. [-]

Field Notes: Oil, Restaurants, Biotech, Clouds, TED, etc.

  • Trophies for the biggest biotech venture financings? (Source)
  • The worst restaurant in the world (Source)
  • Saudi Arabia’s `Day of Rage’ Lures Record Bets on $200 Oil (Source)
  • All talks from TED 2011 rated (Source)
  • Cloud Save extension for Google Chrome (Source)

The 25 Best Financial Blogs: Moi?

I’m on TIME magazine’s list of the 25 best financial blogs. I also wrote something for the list on Zero Hedge. You can read Felix Salmon’s comments on my site, plus my comments on Zero Hedge, here.

Income in America

Income gains


Field Notes

  • White House considers tapping oil reserves (Reuters)
  • Twitter share auction suggests doubling in three months to $7.7 billion valuation (Reuters)
  • What Census 2010 Is Telling us About Census 2020 (AdAge)
  • China opening roughly two new movie theaters a day (LAT)
  • The Geography of Fear (NBER)
  • Super-Angels Steal A March On VC (II)
  • Pareidolia (Source)
  • Mapping the U.S.’s wellbeing (NYT)
  • The science behind traffic jams (Autoblog)
  • Copper theft causes havoc on Santa Rosa CA train crossing (Source)
  • When income grows, who gains? A visualization (SWA)

Scaling of Prosocial Behaviors in Cities

Interesting work from my friend Sam Arbesman:

Scaling of prosocial behavior in cities

Samuel Arbesman, a,  and Nicholas A. Christakisa


Previous research has examined how various behaviors scale in cities in relation to their population size. Behavior related to innovation and productivity has been found to increase per capita as the size of the city increases, a phenomenon known as superlinear scaling. Criminal behavior has also been found to scale superlinearly. Here we examine a variety of prosocial behaviors (e.g., voting and organ donation), which also would be presumed to be categorized into a single class of scaling with population. We find that, unlike productivity and innovation, prosocial behaviors do not scale in a unified manner. We argue how this might be due to the nature of interactions that are distinct for different prosocial behaviors.


PZ Myers on David Brooks

The talk I liked least at this year’s TED conference was that of David Brooks, a talented writer whose one-note values-obsessed NY Times columns are consistently passed around for their … values-obsessedness. Biologist PZ Myers takes on Brooks recent book of neuroscience popularizing in a review. At TED I characterized Brooks’ content-free neuroscience diddling as Jonah Lehrer on his worst day ever, but PZ really lays it (and Brooks) out.

An excerpt:

Harold and Erica, for instance, begin to fall in love. In the fictional episode of the book, this is represented by a moment of flat affect, when they are working out on their bicycles and take a moment of rest at the top of a hill to hold hands. That’s “lovely,” Harold thinks. Then, a few pages later, we get the technical explanation of what’s going on: Harold’s ventral tegmentum and caudate nucleus are releasing dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine!

Woo, as Homer Simpson would say, hoo. Harold’s brain must be having a wild time.

That’s it. Brooks drops the technical names of two brain regions and a couple of neurotransmitters, briefly mentions their association with learning and reward centers, and we hear nothing more about them for the rest of the book, and nothing in his abbreviated description helps us understand how or why or what. A proximate mechanical explanation is no explanation at all, especially if given to an audience that most likely has little awareness of what a brain nucleus represents, or what these chemicals do. They are polysyllabic magical incantations that allow shallow people to pretend to have knowledge.