GDP per Square Kilometre

Wed Nov 2, 2011 by brett

Over at EconBrowser, James talks about Geography and Income. He talks about the question of how much economic activity is dependent on geographic location. When you look at a map of GDP density - GDP per square kilometre - it’s fairly obvious that the bulk of economic activity in densely populated areas which are near coastal regions.

GDP per square kilometre

This map is from a paper by John Gallup, Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Mellinger in the International Regional Science Review (1999), as linked to from EconBrowser.

Look at how densely an economic region Europe is, with lots of crinkly coastline to aid incoming cargo ships. Obviously one of the primary factors to economic activity is geographic location. What will be interesting is to see how much this changes with technology changes in the future. Will geography be such an important factor in the future?

Prison versus Princeton

Wed Nov 2, 2011 by brett

I saw this great info-graphic on The Atlantic comparing the costs of prison in the US with Princeton University.

Prison vs Princeton
Created by: Public Administration

Peak Stuff

Tue Nov 1, 2011 by brett

There was an interesting article in the Guardian yesterday about Peak Stuff: Why is our consumption falling?. The Office of National Statistics in the UK publishes statistics about how much stuff is used - the sheer weight of the materials we consume. Currently the UK consumes the equivalent of 30 tonnes for each individual in the country!

What’s interesting is that since 2001 the figure has been falling - we have been consuming less stuff as a nation, despite an increasing population size. According to environment writer Chris Goodall; “In 2007, just before the crash, our total use of materials was almost the same as it was in 1989, despite the economy having tripled in size in the intervening years. And the peak in resource use appears to have been in 2001 – many years before the recession halted economic growth”. I guess that this is a direct reflection of the increases in efficiency due to new technology. In 2002 the use of energy, heat and power, started to decline. In 2003, the amount of household waste produced as a nation started to fall.

Not a programmer!

Mon Oct 31, 2011 by brett

I read the post “Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice” on the weekend. It is mostly aimed at permanent employees at companies, although I thought there were some useful takeaways for contractors as well.

Below is my summary of the points that resonated with me:

  • Engineers are hired to create value for the company, not to write programs. There is big demand for jobs that add value to an organisation, but aren’t that interesting. The programs are a means to an end - the end being doing something that reduces costs, or doing something that increases profits. So your only goals are to add revenue and/or reduce costs.
  • It’s better to work for a Profit Centre rather than a Cost Centre.
  • Language isn’t too important; A good programmer can pick up a new language fairly quickly. In my experience, if you work as a contractor you will mostly need to have at least 6 months of demonstrable experience at the particular language your client is using to get the job.
  • Networking is important, as most jobs are given to people as a result of networking, rather than a cold job application. A good agent will help to mitigate this.
  • Study negotiation! “It is a little disconcerting that negotiation skills are worth thousands of dollars per year for your entire career but engineers think that directed effort to study them is crazy when that could be applied to trivialities about a technology that briefly caught their fancy.”
  • The most important professional skill is communication. This means being able to communicate effectively in memos, emails, conversations, meetings, and presentations.

Global Wealth

Fri Oct 28, 2011 by brett

Interesting post here summarising Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report. Basically to be in the top 1% of the global wealthy, you need to have $712,000 USD in net assets. To be in the top 10%, you need to have over $82,000 in net assets.

One percent of 7 billion is 70 million. So basically there are 70 million people in the world with $712,000 USD or more in net assets.

[EDIT] Actually, having just read the report, the results are expressed in terms of the global population of adults, 4.5 billion in 2011.

Cool hand Luke

Fri Oct 28, 2011 by brett

There’s an interesting article over at Stanford Magazine about a new technique for reducing muscle fatigue in athletes. Apparently by rapidly cooling an athlete’s hand, the athlete can train much harder as the muscles don’t get as tired during repetitive exercise.

This technique of cooling the hand to reduce core body temperature works because mammals have specialised blood vessels in their palms that are designed to dissipate heat. By applying temperature changes to the palms, the core body temperature is more efficiently altered.

It’s going to be interesting to apply this and see how much of a difference it makes to my own work-outs.

Micro-boxing for productivity

Mon May 30, 2011 by brett

Time-boxing is an idea that I heard about a number of years ago. It’s only been fairly recently that I have tried to incorporate it as a regular part of my daily workflow. The general idea behind time-boxing is that you concentrate on working for a set periods of time through-out the day. I adjust the period of time to how motivated I feel. When I feel really motivated I work in blocks of 25 minutes. When I am just getting started on the day I work in blocks of 10-15 minutes.

An example of a time-boxing regime is the Pomodoro Method where you work for 25 minutes and then have a break.

For me, time-boxing has some characteristics that make it fantastic for getting things done.

Firstly it forces me to focus on time, which is the scarcest resource that I have.

Secondly, it allows me to build up and manage my energy in getting my tasks crossed off. I can use smaller time-boxes to build up my momentum, and having frequest breaks allows me to maintain my stamina in completing tasks.


Today, I decided to try out an idea I’ve had, which I’m calling “Micro-Boxing”.

The idea is to work within very small units of time - 10 minutes for each box. Instead of having a break after each time-box, I move to a new task instead.

The 10 minute work interval forces me to break tasks down into very managable chunks. This means that I am whittling away at tasks that I have been avoiding because they seem to be too big or require too much effort.

By moving to a new task, I both keep things fresh and yet keep my momentum going.

I’ve been keeping track of all my tasks using Emacs in org-mode. This allows me to easily break down tasks that are too big into smaller chunks. It also makes it easy to add new things to the list as I think of them.

I’m pleased to say that today has been an enormously productive day! It will be interesting to see whether this technique will scale out for the rest of the week, or whether my productivity today has just been the result of the novelty of the technique.

Before I die. Cool project

Thu Apr 7, 2011 by brett

Candy Chang has created a fantastic project called “Before I Die”. She took a derelict building and painted a wall with blackboard paint. There are spaces where people can write down one thing they want to do before they die. Very cool.

Ledger to OFX

Fri Feb 25, 2011 by brett

I keep my finances in J Wiegley’s Ledger format, which means everything is in a flat text file, for easy editing. I recently decided to use for both my company and personal accounts. Unfortunately, this means that I somehow needed to upload all my past transaction data. So I wrote a Python script to convert Ledger format account files to OFX. You can grab a copy of the source code over at GitHub.

Evernote to Dropbox

Tue Feb 8, 2011 by brett

I’ve just started using Evernote to make a note of things I find interesting on the web and to capture ideas or random thoughts. So far I love it!

What I wanted was an easy way to extract the notes and save them to my filesystem, where they become much more useful. Specifically I want to save the notes as text files to a place in my Dropbox repository, so they get synced across all my devices, and are backed up.

After a bit of googling I found kjk’s script over at Github. A little bit of Pythonic bastardisation later, and I modified the script to extract the notes to a directory, creating directory names that match the notebook names in Evernote. I also updated the script a bit, as it didn’t work with my version of Evernote.

I have uploaded the source code to my repository at Github, so it is available for general use.

It works OK at the moment, but future plans would be to track the notes by ID in an index file, and so if I move the notes around in Evernote, I can make the corresponding changes on my local filesystem.