Stellarators & Qubits in Garching

The Garching Research Center near Munich yesterday staged one of its infrequent open door nights, with all the various institutes showing off their work in lectures and demonstrations. The campus is big and I arrived rather late, but I did make it to the two most interesting places: the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics … Continue reading “Stellarators & Qubits in Garching”

Statistical (In-)Significance

In 2005 John Ioannidis famously declared that Most Published Research Findings Are False. How can this be? Ioannidis refers to studies employing statistical significance testing which has become the norm in many fields, especially medicine – Ioannidis himself is an epidemiologist. Research involving only abstract reasoning (e.g. mathematics) or reliably repeatable mechanisms (e.g. engineering) is … Continue reading “Statistical (In-)Significance”

Tales from the Roman Republic

Rome’s messy transition from republic to principate has been well-documented by ancient authors and often revisited by modern ones. Since 1990 there has been a veritable explosion of historical fiction set in this era. I’ve devoured a good part of it, so here are some recommendations for your reading pleasure. The authors generally keep to … Continue reading “Tales from the Roman Republic”

How Great Was Alexander?

Following his observations on Napoleon, sociologist Randall Collins has posted another insightful article on one of history’s greatest warlords: What Made Alexander Great? Once again, I recommend you take an hour or two to read the whole thing. Below follows a summary with noteworthy excerpts. Philip’s Groundwork Alexander’s father Philip laid the groundwork to his … Continue reading “How Great Was Alexander?”

Napoleon’s Unlikely Career

Sociologist Randall Collins has published another fascinating essay-length post, this time on the illustrious career of Napoleon Bonaparte and the old question of talent versus luck. The single worst thing about the article is the title, Napoleon as CEO: A Career of Emotional Energy, which sounds like something written by robots to fill the space … Continue reading “Napoleon’s Unlikely Career”

Luttwak’s Grand Strategy of Rome

Edward N. Luttwak’s The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire (Johns Hopkins University Press 1976) is a compact (255 pages) and brilliant classic on military and diplomatic strategies from the principate to the tetrarchy. Recently Luttwak published his long-awaited companion piece, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Harvard University Press 2009), much delayed and … Continue reading “Luttwak’s Grand Strategy of Rome”

John Glassie on Athanasius Kircher

John Glassie’s A Man of Misconceptions (Riverhead Books 2012) is an immensely entertaining account of the life and times of Athanasius Kircher (1601/2–1680), a Jesuit scholar who escaped the Thirty Years War ravaging his native Germany to become famous throughout Europe for his prolific writing, museum of curiosities, and peculiar scientific theories. Kircher lived at … Continue reading “John Glassie on Athanasius Kircher”

Sociological Eye on Revolutions

Successful revolutions provide the founding myths for the newly established order, and are accordingly glorified as the spontaneous uprising of the righteous and downtrodden against their oppressors and exploiters. Randall Collins, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, has turned his Sociological Eye on the realities behind the myths. The articles quoted below are … Continue reading “Sociological Eye on Revolutions”

Cost Overruns in Public Projects

Today we have an entry from the “no surprise to anyone who’s ever read a newspaper” department. Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie? by Flyvbjerg, Skamris Holm & Buhl, originally published in 2002, has just been released as a free arXiv download. The authors examined 258 transportation infrastructure projects in 20 countries … Continue reading “Cost Overruns in Public Projects”

Identifying Mobile Phone Users

Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility by de Montjoye, Hidalgo, Verleysen & Blondel examines call traces for ~1.5 million mobile phone users, gathered “from April 2006 to June 2007 in a western country.” The traces recorded the nearest antenna and time whenever a voice or text message was sent or received. … Continue reading “Identifying Mobile Phone Users”