Monthly Archives: May 2007

Literature and industry

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Does literature effect industry or does industry effect literature?

Have you ever read a book and had that philosophical quandary, have authors such as Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, Ayn Rand and others inspire industries progression; or are they the true masters of innovation? Did they read Fahrenheit 451 and say “hey yeah, a hand scanner… lets do that!” Did they 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and decide the submarine would become common place? Have our scientists, mechanical engineers, and inventors been tearing their ideas from books one page at a time? Have authors been secretly directing society in its evolution into the future? Or is it merely a parasitic relationship?? hmmm… now if only someone would write a book about me finding a million dollars!

The relationship is way more complicated than that… Good science fiction inspires people to pursue careers in science and engineering, and with enough knowledgeable people around, things just start happening…

In 1993, Milwaukee School of Engineering awarded an Honorary Doctor of Engineering degree to Canadian actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery Scott (or simply Scotty) on Star Trek. The reason? More than half of their engineering students named Scotty as one of the reasons they entered the field…

What was Alexander’s last name?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Alexander The Great…what was his family name?

Back in those days, there were no family names. People were known by the lands they owned (or, failing that, by their birthplace or place of residence, which for most people was the same place anyway; for example, Herodotus, “the father of history,” was known as Herodotus of Halicarnassus in his lifetime) or by nicknames they earned by doing something of note.

Alexander’s family was the royal house of Macedon, so his father was known as Philip II of Macedon; Alexander was crowned Alexander III of Macedon, but eventually, due to his success as a military leader, he became known as Alexander the Great (“Megas Alexandros” in Greek).

Canada in world affairs

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Why did Canada not play a more active role in world affairs during this time?

First off, what is “this time” you are talking about? Second, Canada, in spite of its enormous territory, is a fairly small country in terms or population. The population of Canada is half of Britain’s and about equal to that of Belgium, Denmark, and Netherlands combined, so the resources Canada can expend on “playing a more active role in world affairs” are also half of Britain’s, or about the same as those of Belgium, Denmark, and Netherlands combined.

Margins in Web development

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

What should the profit margin % be on a medium sized web dev and consulting firm be?

Trying to figure out if we are underpriced. Our margins are really tight. We have 15 employees. Trying to determine if our margins are out of line with the amount of work we throw into it.

Your margins should in all honesty be negative. You are competing against people who work from their homes and thus not only have no office overhead, but get a tax break on a part of their rent. Not to mention the industrious near-shore and off-shore developers…

If you want to see if you are underpriced, post a couple of dummy projects on Craig’s List in your area and ask people to send you their rates.

The origin of salsa?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

When did salsa originated, during the 1930s or the 1970s?

It depends on how you define salsa.

Some say that salsa is music that celebrates spice in all things from food to life in general, and so derive the origin of salsa from 1930s, when Cuban artist Ignacio Piñerio wrote “Échale Salsita”, which was dedicated to an old black man who sold spicy sausages on Central Road in Matanzas.

Others say that salsa is the music of the Latino identity movement in the U.S. and thus trace its origins to the 1970s New York City. The term was reportedly coined by young musicians like Hector Lavoe, Larry Harlow, Ray Beratto, Willie Colon and popularized by Izzy Sanabria, owner of the Latin New York magazine, and Jerry Massuci, owner of Fania Records.

Yet others note that salsa only infiltrated the mainstream in 1970s; in NYC’s Puerto Rican community, it was played since at least 1950.

Finally, some people (including Celia Cruz and Tito Puente) have said that there is no such style as salsa; “salsa” is a collective name given by stupid people who are too tone-deaf to know the difference to several distinct Cuban (son, son montuno, rumba, cha cha cha, conga, mambo, etc.) and Puerto Rican (bomba and plena) styles.

Assessing the performance of mutual funds

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

How do you assess the performance of different mutual funds?

When usually each one is better than the others over different periods? And what is the best period to consider?

To really assess performance of mutual funds (i.e., assess it on a style-adjusted basis), you need a decent data library and a solid understanding of quadratic programming.


William F. Sharpe, Asset Allocation: Management Style and Performance Measurement:…

How did fascism rise in Europe?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

How did fascism rise in Europe?

Read up on Benito Mussolini; he was the first fascist leader to become the leader of a country, more than a decade ahead of Hitler.

Basically, many elitist countries in Europe were at a crossroads; they could either become more democratic and egalitarian (which was bad for powers that be, since they depended on retaining their privileges), or face a communist revolution (or, in a milder version, creeping socialist takeover), or make a deal with fascists. Victor Emmanuel, king of Italy, chose the latter route in 1922 and appointed Mussolini Prime Minister. A decade later, German leaders faced the same choice…


The French Revolution vs. the American Revolution

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Why did the French Revoloution turn against itself when the American Revolution didnt?

Could it be argued that the American Revolution did turn against its democratic roots? How did the Amercian Revolution influence revolutions in other countries/

Why did the French Revolution turn against itself when the American Revolution didn’t? Because the American revolution didn’t rob anyone of anything. French gentry fought against the French revolution because it abolished their valuable privileges and confiscated their lands. In America, nothing of the sort happened. Even the British crown had nothing to complain about, since it didn’t even lose any tax revenue (the crown collected no taxes in colonies; in fact, it was the attempt to do so that led to the loss of colonies).

How did the American Revolution influence revolutions in other countries? It didn’t. The American Revolution is a very rare occurrence; it was a revolution led by those who already had everything but the political power to capture nothing but the political power. Most other revolutions are led by those who have nothing but force to capture everything that can be gained by force, most notably, material possessions.

Is Machiavelli a teacher of evil? Why, or why not?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Is Machiavelli a teacher of evil? Why, or why not?

I am struggling with this essay question. I read the Prince but I was just wondering if someone could help me out.

Evil is a subjective notion. Depending on your definition of evil, you could honestly answer either yes or no. A more subtle answer would be, Machiavelli is a teacher of LESSER evil. In his own words,

[A] prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.

The Prince, Chapter XVII

Although I must admit, I’d have to think twice before construing something like this as evil:

A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honour the proficient in every art. At the same time he should encourage his citizens to practise their callings peaceably, both in commerce and agriculture, and in every other following, so that the one should not be deterred from improving his possessions for fear lest they be taken away from him or another from opening up trade for fear of taxes; but the prince ought to offer rewards to whoever wishes to do these things and designs in any way to honour his city or state.

The Prince, Chapter XXI