Sunday, January 30, 2011

Age of top chess players

I heard in a book I recently read that Chess is dominated by young people. I couldn't find a good source to check this though. So I went ahead and looked at the top ranked players in America:

Born 1987Born 1974Born 1975Born 1983Born 1975Born 1960Born 1991Born 1962Born 1970Born 1956
1Nakamura, Hikaru (12641216)

2Kamsky, Gata (12528459)

3Onischuk, Alexander (12625186)

4Akobian, Varuzhan (12740522)

5Shulman, Yury (12741541)

6Seirawan, Yasser (10509459)

7Hess, Robert L (12749774)

8Ehlvest, Jaan (12514557)

Stripunsky, Alexander (12715435)

10Christiansen, Larry M (10460921)

The youngest player in the top 10 is therefore 19 years old, the oldest is 54. This is a much wider range than I actually expected. A 35 year range between the youngest and oldest player is pretty impressive.

Old Japanese

While I am not entirely sure I believe that Japan is doing as bad as is generally portrayed, it is pretty clear that they did hit a brick wall. What was going to be the big scary country surpassing America in every way reached a certain level than peaked.

While I am pretty disconnected from Japan, the impression I get is they had a great generation. The generation after World War 2 built the country up from the rubble and created a world class economy. The generation after never stepped up to continue the growth.

The New York Times has the best description of why this happened that I have ever seen. Asian countries just have too much respect for old people for their own good. Most big ideas come from people in their twenties, thirties, and forties. To really make progress a country needs as many of these people as possible working as much as possible. When an older generation gains too much power to block younger people from competing with them disaster is likely.

This is a common problem in democracy. Old people get to vote, while those under 18 do not. Because of this the government spends a lot more money supporting the elderly, than it does helping young people. This really can make progress difficult if the older generation gets too large. I expect to see it during the next twenty years in America unless the baby boomers eat themselves into shorter retirements.

An easy solution would be give the parents of children too young to vote an extra half vote per kid. I am willing to bet that schools would shape up real quick if we did.

18.8% of Asian girls

America has been such a mix of different races for so long that it really is slowly becoming impossible to define the race of many Americans beyond mixed. I know several Americans who have ancestry from four continents. In a hundred years it will be the norm. Most Americans of European ancestry already identify as white instead of English, Irish, German, Greek, Italian, or any other nationality. This is amazing considering how much trouble early Irish and Eastern Europeans had when they first moved here. Now that interracial marriage is so common though soon it will just be possible for most to identify as American. Being American will imply being multiracial.

The New York Times has a decent article on this subject. Of particular interest is the graphic in the article. Almost twenty percent of Asian girls are marrying white guys! American Indians are quickly losing their racial identity. Almost half marry white, any many marry other races. I suspect the same is true of American Jews, although the graphic does not show this.

Still, only 5% of white or black women marry outside their race. So while this is happening quickly by historical standards, there is still room for a lot of interracial conflict.


Apparently I am an Indian, or Native American, or whatever the heck they are called these days.

I always thought that to qualify as one you needed to be a certain percentage Indian. Usually this is true. However it just happens that in the Cherokee tribe this is not true. You only must be able to trace ancestry to someone who was registered as a member of the tribe a hundred years ago. I can. Well, at least I am assured that I could if I went and researched the subject better.

So then the question is, would this be worth my time to do? The actual benefits of tribe membership are pretty minimal. Perhaps when starting a business I could declare myself to be an under-represented minority. I really don't think I could do it with a straight face though. I am about as far from being a stereotypical Indian as you can get.

Still, it would make for an interesting conversation piece so I might go through the trouble of doing it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not so bad.

Americans are quite over dramatic. We have one of the highest standards of living in the history of the world then act like it is the end of the world when a little recession comes around. Sure, things might have been better than today for ten or fifteen years in our history but that still leaves us on top of the world.

Anyways, it always makes it happy to see articles like this:

Life expectancy for a baby born today is 78.3 years, a number that has consistently gone up, regardless of economic downturns... Median household net worth today is about $104,000, 3.3 times what it was in 1970, after adjusting for inflation. And it's about $17,000 higher than in the early 2000s... In 1970, each resident of a home occupied 478 square feet, on average. Today, each person occupies 996 square feet...The rate of motor-vehicle fatalities is one-fourth what it was in 1970, a huge, if unheralded, success story... The percentage of adults over age 25 with a college degree has gone from 10.7 percent in 1970 to 29.5 percent today. And the percentage with a high school diploma or equivalent has risen from 52.3 percent to 86.7 percent over the same time period.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

No oil data?

Apparently the EIA has decided to stop issuing International Petroleum Monthly, the nice excel files it has sent out for many years. Before it was simple to make graphs of the oil production of any country in the world, or the world as a whole. You would go to their site, download more than a decade of data and graph it.

It sounds like the data itself will still exist, it will just not be in an easily usable format. In honor of the death of this source of data, here is the final graph of oil production, taken from another blogger. It shows quite clearly that the dramatic increases in the price of oil have not resulted in more production since 2004 when prices averaged under $40 a barrel.

Supply not increasing after such clear price signals either implies real limits on supply, or OPEC finally learning to control supply after decades of failure.

Monday, January 10, 2011

China hasn't beat us yet

There is a remarkable amount of worry going on over the rise of China. So much that I just don't think people realize how far ahead we really are.

As of today the United States has a GDP three times that of China. Our population is less of a quarter that of China. This means that the average American earns, and presumably produces, twelve times as much as the average Chinese!

Chinese have earned 13 Nobel Prizes. Americans have earned 326. This actually overstates the contribution of China to Science, because a lot of these people are Chinese and were born in China but were educated outside the country and currently work in American Universities. A great example is Roger Tsien, listed as a Chinese Nobel Prize winner in the Wikipedia page, but Harvard educated and currently working at UC San Diego. Now, anyone who has spent time around American research universities knows they are full of brilliant Chinese students. This isn't necessarily reason to expect China to surpass us though. Chinese typically have been more productive scientists here than they have in China. That may change, but I will believe it when I see it.

When it comes to military spending China also comes up far short. Currently the United States spends about seven times as much on its military as China does. Also, as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it is safe to say America has one of the most experienced armed forces in the world as well as the most expensive.

This isn't to say China won't surpass us. Countries rise and fall, there is no reason to expect that American dominance will last forever. What the Chinese have done in the past thirty years is really quite remarkable. If Americans don't continue to work hard and be creative than the chances of being surpassed are quite high. Just don't be shocked if they follow in the footsteps of the Japanese hitting an economic brick wall before catching up.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Do we need 5 times as many MBAs as Engineers?

Looking at the statistics for how many graduate degrees are granted in different fields can be interesting.

Education Masters: 175,880
MBAs: 155,637
JDs: 43,769
Engineering Masters Degrees: 34,592
MDs: 15,646
Education PhDs: 8,491
Engineering PhDs: 8,167
Biomedical PhDs: 6,918
Psychology PhDs: 5,296
Physical Science PhDs: 4,804
Social Science PhDs: 4,059
Dentists: 4,032
Pharmacy: 3,660
English and Literature PhDs: 1,262

A few things jump out at me. No wonder teachers make so little money! Despite the low pay people are jumping through hoops like crazy to get into the profession. This doesn't look like an issue of fields that women prefer making less money, it looks like a simple case of supply and demand.

Why do we need so many lawyers and MBAs? Three times as many Lawyers as doctors? As many lawyers and Engineering masters and PhD degrees combined? No wonder the there has been so much concern about opportunities for lawyers not being what they were.

No wonder medical doctors make a fortune! They are probably the most useful of the professions on the list, after all they save lives, yet we really don't produce that many doctors. Pharmacists and Dentists have similar been successful at limiting the number of degrees granted. This means there is a great supply and demand situation for those medical professionals.

Engineers are pretty common. In comparison to medical professions we have done a poor job of limiting our numbers. I don't expect that the situation is as bad as it is for lawyers or MBAs though so I would guess opportunities will stay about the same as they are now. The big threat to engineers is outsourcing. Many of our jobs are easy to ship to China. In comparison doctors cannot be outsourced except for those in a few unusual fields.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Organic tales

Organic food has always annoyed me. It just isn't clear that it is any better for anyone or anything. For example, it is often talked about how much more environmentally friendly it is. This is not in any way clear however. Crop yields are lower for organic crops, this means more land is required to grow the same amount of food. This means less land is available for wildlife.

This rant was inspired by this article. Once again, organic food has been shown to be no more healthy than conventionally raised crops. However, in my life organic food is almost certainly less healthy. This is because it is expensive. That means it leads me to eat less vegetables because I am cheap.

Far better to eat the cheapest vegetables I can find. Typically these are the vegetables which require the least chemicals, the least land, and least care. This makes them the most likely to be environmentally friendly.

Mark Twain didn't write the constitution

There is a lot of chatter about a version of Huckleberry Finn rewritten to avoid the word nigger, and Congress cutting out parts of the constitution when they read it. What surprises me is how much people seem to think these two cases have in common when one is absurd and the other quite reasonable.

Huckleberry Finn was the artistic work of one man. He expected it to be controversial wrote it to be that way. Altering that, particularly for as silly a reason as particular vibrations in the air and geometric patterns falling out of style, is denying history. To pretend to send children to history class while covering up the parts we don't approve of today will get us nowhere. The Americans are doing the best they ever have by almost any measure and we should be bragging about our progress, not covering up past mistakes.

The Constitution however is a document that lists the powers the different branches of government have. Unlike Huckleberry Finn it was written to be altered. It is completely reasonable for Congress to read the rules which it operates under, and silly for it to read rules that it operated under in 1826. Sure there are reasons for historians, or children in school, to read the original text. There is no good reason for the U.S. Congress to do so though. They don't operate under the 3/5ths clause and therefore should spend their time thinking about more pressing issues.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stock Market Returns

The New York Times has a great graphic on stock market returns for the last 90 years. It shows that stock market returns are not stable until 60-70 years in the market. Also, losing money over a twenty year period is a real possibility.

I am getting the opinion that any money you expect to need within twenty years just shouldn't be in the stock market. Most of my 401(k) money is in stocks(mostly as index funds, plus some international funds). However I don't know if I will be able to justify much money at all in stocks thirty years from now.