What do we know about Kepler-186f [1]? Is it not too hot and not too cold? Does it harbor life [2]? Does it serve as a doppleganger for Earth [2]? Here are some readings on the most promising (for humanoid life) exoplanet yet found:

[1] Chang, K.   Scientists Find an “Earth Twin”, or Maybe a Cousin. NYTimes Space and Cosmos, April 17  (2014).

[2] Kramer, M.   Found! First Earth-size Planet that Could Support Life. Space.com, April 17 (2014).

[3] Kepler-186f Diagram. Space.com, 

The RANSAC (Random Sample Consensus) Algorithm [1, 2] is an adaptive method to detect outliers by dividing the sample datapoints into “inliers” and “outliers”. Treated in this way, the data can be incorporated into a model that exhibits minimial error. RANSAC is also robust to outliers, which might be useful for dealing with heavy-tailed and other non-normal (e.g. Gaussian) distributions.

RANSAC was developed for and used extensively in computer vision research [3]. A MATLAB toolbox specialized for image processing, but possibly amenable to other applications [4], is available from the MATLAB Exchange [3].

[1] Zuliani, M.   RANSAC for Dummies. August 13 (2012).

[2] Second picture is from: Zaman, T.   [3D] Ransac (get planes from point clouds). March 23 (2011).

[3] RANSAC Algorithm for Image Processing. Stack Overflow (2011).

[4] Kowdle, A.   Parallel implementation of RAndom SAmple Consensus (RANSAC). Docstoc (2010).

[5] Chen, H.   RANSAC Toolbox. MATLAB Toolbox (2009).

Thomas Piketty’s new book “Capital in the Twenty-first Century" has been getting a lot of attention as of late [1]. I have collected a series of book reviews that provide a bit of perspective on the book. This could either prove to be prophetic, or another "End of History and the Last Man”.

Piketty’s central thesis: when inherited wealth growth exceeds income growth generated by innovation and increases in GDP, inherited wealth triumps over the nouveau riche. By limiting social mobility, these factors act to sharpen income inequality [2]. This scenario was true in the 19th century, but not in the 20th — in a period where opportunities for growth exceeded inherited wealth.

The fear is that in the twenty-first century, slow growth and high levels of inequality will return us to a pattern typical of the 19th century and the European middle ages. In the case of the latter, the primary source of wealth generation came from rents paid to a landed gentry [3].

So either history is truly cyclical, or this state of affairs can be contrasted with the prediction made by Karl Marx with respect to the end of capitalism [4]. You know, the one that predicts the devaluation of most forms of labor. Piketty’s solution to countering this type of structural inequality is wealth redistribution, which is something America pioneered [5], but is needed on a global scale to avoid the predicted negative consequences of economic growth stagnation [6].

[1] Here is my collection of Piketty reviews so far (in no particular order):

An Interview with Adair Turner: “Which Capitalism for the 21rst Century?”. Institute for New Economic Thinking blog, November 12 (2013).

Hutton, W.   Capitalism simply isn’t working and here are the reason why. The Guardian, April 12 (2014).

Cassidy, J.   Forces of Divergence: is surging inequality endemic to capitalism? The New Yorker, March 31 (2014).

Galbraith, J.K.   Kapital for the Twenty-first Century? Institute for New Economic Thinking blog, March 31 (2014).

Yglesias, M.   The Short Guide to Capital in the 21rst Century. Vox blog, April 8 (2014).

Krugman, P.   Why we’re in a New Gilded Age. New York Review of Books, April 10 (2014).

Shenk, T.   Thomas Piketty and Millenial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality. The Nation, April 14 (2014).

Faux, J.   Thomas Piketty Undermines the Hallowed Tenets of the Capitalist Catechism. The Nation, April 18 (2014).

Wolf, M.   "Capital in the Twenty-first Century", by Thomas Piketty. FinancialTimes.com, April 15 (2014).

[2] Krugman, P.   Piketty Day Notes. Conscience of a Liberal blog, April 16 (2014). 

[3 Kaminska, I.   The Tyrrany of Land. Dizzynomics blog, February 5 (2014).

[4] Jeffries, S.   Karl Marx’s guide to the end of capitalism: a primer. The Guardian, October 20 (2008).

[5] Geier, K.   Taking Aim at Inequality. Blog of the Century, March 12 (2014) AND Yglesias, M.   If growth is dead, we need radical redistribution. Moneybox blog, October 7 (2013).

[6] Cowen, T.   "Unified Growth Theory" by Oded Galor. Marginal Revolution blog, June 9 (2011) AND Kuznets Curve. Wikipedia. December 30 (2013).

Here are a few particularly eye-opening and sobering tax-related facts for your tax day (in the US). The first is from Robert Reich [1] on the widespread but legal corporate tax evasion currently underway. The worst part of it is, this isn’t just a corporate phenomenon [2]. Remember, if it’s a loophole, it’s not wrong.

The other is a story from David Pakman [3] on the re-allocation of public school funding to religious charter schools that support the teaching of creationism and other things that advance ideological purity rather than a solid 21rst century education. The more you owe (I mean know)!

[1] Robert B. Reich on Tax Day. Moveon.org YouTube Channel, April 15 (2014).

[2] For even more tax-related insidiousness, see this new working paper by the economist Gabriel Zukman on the offshoring of personal wealth. 

[3] $1 Billion in Tax Dollars Fund Anti-Science Religious Educations. David Pakman Show, David Pakman YouTube Channel, March 26 (2014).

Here are the supplementary readings for Episode 6 of the Cosmos reboot, called “Deeper, Deeper Still”. These are organized by theme. I am not responsible for any groans my puns may cause.

(Episode) Origins…..

A sneak peek for this week. Daily Galaxy blog, April 12 (2014).

Ziggy Stardust and the Extra Dimensions (on Mars?):

Berkowitz, J.   The Stardust Revolution. Prometheus Books (2012).

Greene, B.   The Search for Hidden Dimensions. Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. YouTube, May 17 (2010).

A human = 10^30 quarks?

Wolchover, N.   A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics. Quanta Magazine, September 17 (2013).

Carroll, S.   Jaroslav Trnka on the Amplituhedron. Preposterous Universe blog, March 31 (2014).

Filmer, J.   New Discovery Simplifies Quantum Physics. From Quarks to Quasars blog, September 19 (2013).

Huang, C.   Scale of the Universe II. Scaleofuniverse.com.

Tardigrages and Angiosperms:

Stromberg, J.   How Does the Tiny Waterbear Survive in Outer Space? Smithsonian.com, September 11 (2012).

Nichols, P.B., Nelson, D.R., and Garey, J.R.   A family-level analysis of tardigrade phylogeny. Hydrobiologia, 558, 53-60 (2006).

Soltis, P., Soltis, D., and Edwards, C.   Angiosperms. Tree of Life (2005).

Plants Move Towards the Light and Make Food:

Wyatt, S.E. and Kiss, J.Z.   Plant tropisms: from Darwin to the International Space Station. American Journal of Botany, 100(1), 1-3 (2013).

Artificial Photosynthesis. Wikipedia, April 13 (2014).

Carbon is Versatile:

Buckminsterfullerene. Wikipedia, April 13 (2014).

Carbon Nanotube. Wikipedia, April 13 (2014).

Wall of Forever:

Wall, M.   Major Discovery: ‘Smoking Gun’ for Universe’s Incredible Big Bang Expansion Found. Space.com, March 17 (2014).

Tate, K.   How Gravitational Waves Work (Infographic). Space.com, March 17 (2014).


Second from top: Ichetucknee Springs, North Florida, USA.

Third from top: Book Cover, You are Stardust. Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim.

Bottom Image: Evidence for Cosmic Inflation following the Big Bang, COURTESY: BICEP2 Group.

I guess I am literally pushing the boundaries of the arXiv. On Tuesday, March 25, I submitted a paper called “Contextual and Structural Representations of Market-mediated Economic Value”. While they normally announce the paper at Midnight (GMT) the following weekday, this paper was not announced until two days later (Friday morning).

Usually, when a paper is delayed, it means there is an issue with classification. Ultimately, the paper was placed in the q-fin.GN category. Then, 12 days later, arXiv introduced two new categories: q-fin.EC (economics) and q-fin.MF (mathematical finance). While this could be a coincidence, I still like to think that my paper broke their system. Hopefully, it ends up breaks new ground and old paradigms as well.

A follow-up on the “theory of theories" post: every great scientific idea (like a good tree) has it’s roots. Here, we can see the roots of two biological theories. The top diagram, tracing key events in the double helix structure of DNA idea, is based on data from [1]. The bottom diagram, tracing key events in the notion of evolution by natural selection, is based on data from [2].

[1] Graur, D.   A short history of DNA. SlideShare presentation.

[2] WIlkins, J.   Precursors of Darwinian evolution. TalkOrigins FAQ.

How do complex structures form? Today, we will focus on honeycomb games and mathematical labyrinths. Honeycomb games (a game of life variant) are used by [1] to understand minority leadership mechanisms in guiding behaviors of collective swarms. Honeycomb games utilizes first-player advantage on a lattice of hexagons to examine how minority interests can affect decisions made by the majority. The top figure shows examples for both naive (left) and informed (right) members of the group [1]. Moving from autonomous behavior to physical pattern-formation, Karan Singh from the Dynamic Graphics Project at the University of Toronto provides us with computer-generated labyrinths [2]. Much like cellular automata in terms of their pattern-formation capacity, labyrinths can be created by evolving curves drawn on two-dimensional manifolds to produce reaction-diffusion textures. 

[1] Boos, M., Pritz, J., Lange, S., and Belz, M.   Leadership in Moving Human Groups. PLoS Computational Biology, 10(4), e1003541 (2014).

[2] Pedersen, H. and Singh, K.   Organic Labyrinths and Mazes. dgp Lab, University of Toronto.

The internet predicts social change! Or perhaps not. A new paper on the arXiv [1] suggests that Internet use, stratified by hours spent on the internet per week, tends to predict religious affiliation (explains up to 20-25% of the variance). But perhaps analyzing what are essentially time-series correlations with conventional odds ratios is not the best analysis to full understand the phenomenon at hand. That is the lesson of [2], in which Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis suggest that we need better analysis techniques for Big Data. 

But they also suggest that big data simply gives us too much data for standard approaches. A Science Policy Forum article [3] suggests that correlative approaches such as those used to predict flu cases from Google search term frequencies tend to over-predict and provide other analytical caveats. To overcome these and other problems, we need fundamentally new kinds of techniques such as topological data analysis [4].

[1] Downey, A.B.   Religious Affiliation, Education and Internet use. arXiv:1403.5534 [stat.AP] (2014).

[2] Marcus, G. and Davis, E.   Eight (No, Nine!) Problems With Big Data. NYTimes Op-ed, April 6 (2014).

[3] Lazer, D., Kennedy, R., King, G., and Vespignani, A.   The parable of Google Flu: traps in Big Data analysis. Science Policy Forum, 343, 1203 (2014).

[4] Professor Gunnar Carlsson Introduces Topological Data Analysis. Ayasdi YouTube Channel, January 14 (2013).

To Tumblr, Love Pixel Union