10 percent liable

Last month, this New York Times headline caught my eye for three reasons: Netherlands Was 10 Percent Liable in Srebrenica Deaths, Top Dutch Court Finds Reason #1: Having lived in the Netherlands, headlines about Dutch affairs usually stick out to me. Reason #2: I’d just been reading The Themis Files, a fiction series in which … More 10 percent liable

Cognitive Overfitting

It can be kind of fun, in a self-flagellating way, to read about cognitive biases like the availability heuristic or the Dunning-Kruger effect, or just to browse through big lists like this one. If only our brains could take into account all the information they have, process it instantly, and store it forever! But machine learning engineers know that … More Cognitive Overfitting

Ted Chiang on unspendable grief

Since I read Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories “Stories of your life and others,” including the marvelous title piece that inspired Arrival, I’ve been looking forward to his newly published collection “Exhalation.” The first story’s main character tells of his experience coping with the loss of his wife, and has this beautiful passage describing … More Ted Chiang on unspendable grief

How to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit in your head

When I lived in the Netherlands, along with my attempts to learn Dutch I also tried to get used to thinking of temperatures in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. Of course, I’d grown up with the formula for converting from Celsius to Fahrenheit, so in principle, anytime someone mentioned a temperature in Celsius I could work … More How to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit in your head

Optimization takes effort

I love optimization—both the general principle of trying to make things the best they can be, as well as the specific techniques that go into making that happen. In an alliterative-adjective icebreaker game, I even introduced myself as “Optimizing Owen,” which somehow did not surprise my Intro Calculus students. But optimization has a cost—it takes … More Optimization takes effort

What we can’t spend

Some things, like money, time, and effort, are scarce resources that need careful budgeting to be used optimally. Some of those, like effort and attention, can return stronger after resting from difficult use, as if they’ve been built up like a muscle through exercise, which makes the calculus of optimizing how much and when to … More What we can’t spend