Quotulatiousness

April 24, 2016

The “secret” of Indian food

Filed under: India, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In an article in the Washington Post last year, Roberto Ferdman summarized the findings of a statistical study explaining why the flavours in Indian foods differ so much from other world cuisines:

Indian food, with its hodgepodge of ingredients and intoxicating aromas, is coveted around the world. The labor-intensive cuisine and its mix of spices is more often than not a revelation for those who sit down to eat it for the first time. Heavy doses of cardamom, cayenne, tamarind and other flavors can overwhelm an unfamiliar palate. Together, they help form the pillars of what tastes so good to so many people.

But behind the appeal of Indian food — what makes it so novel and so delicious — is also a stranger and subtler truth. In a large new analysis of more than 2,000 popular recipes, data scientists have discovered perhaps the key reason why Indian food tastes so unique: It does something radical with flavors, something very different from what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture. And it does it at the molecular level.

[…]

Chefs in the West like to make dishes with ingredients that have overlapping flavors. But not all cuisines adhere to the same rule. Many Asian cuisines have been shown to belie the trend by favoring dishes with ingredients that don’t overlap in flavor. And Indian food, in particular, is one of the most powerful counterexamples.

Researchers at the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur crunched data on several thousand recipes from a popular online recipe site called TarlaDalal.com. They broke each dish down to its ingredients, and then compared how often and heavily ingredients share flavor compounds.

The answer? Not too often.

April 11, 2016

Clarkson’s Car Years – How Japan Took Over The World… And Then Lost It.

Filed under: Business, Japan — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

April 2, 2016

QotD: The Anglo-Saxon encirclement strategy

Filed under: Britain, China, History, Military, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In retrospect the fight against Napoleon seems to have engendered a new strategic method, later employed against Germany in two world wars and against the Soviet Union thereafter. The French might call it the Anglo-Saxon encirclement strategy. Its essential aim was to avoid direct combat with a formidable enemy, or at least to limit engagement to a minimum. Instead of confronting one vast army with another – at Waterloo there were only 25,000 British troops – the Anglo-Saxon approach was to take on the big beast by assembling as many neighbourhood dogs and cats as possible, with a few squirrels and mice thrown in. With the obvious exception of the Western Front in the First World War, that is how the two world wars were fought, with an ever longer list of allies large, small and trivial (e.g. Guatemala, whose rulers could thereby expropriate the coffee plantations of German settlers), and that is how the Soviet Union was resisted after 1945, with what eventually became the North Atlantic Alliance. Like the anti-Napoleon coalition, Nato was – and remains – a ragbag of member states large and small, of vastly different capacity for war or deterrence, not all of them loyal all the time, though loyal and strong enough. Like the challenge to British diplomacy in the struggle against Napoleon, the great challenge to which American diplomacy successfully rose was to keep the alliance going by tending to the various political needs of its member governments, even those of countries as small as Luxembourg, whose rulers sat on all committees as equals, even though they could never field more than a single battalion of troops.

Now it is the turn of the Chinese, whose strength is still modest yet growing too rapidly for comfort, and who are inevitably provoking the emergence of a coalition against them; the members range in magnitude from India and Japan down to the Sultanate of Brunei, in addition of course to the US. Should they become powerful enough, the Chinese will force even the Russian Federation into the coalition regardless of the innate preferences of its rulers, for strategy is always stronger than politics, as it was for the anti-communist Nixon and the anti-American Mao in 1972. China cannot therefore overcome its inferiority to the American-led coalition by converting its economic strength into aircraft carriers and such, any more than Napoleon could have overcome strategic encirclement by winning one more battle. The exact repetition of Napoleon’s fatal error by imperial and Nazi Germany is easily explained: history teaches no lesson except that there is a persistent failure to learn its lessons. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese will do any better.

Edward Luttwak, “A Damned Nice Thing”, London Review of Books, 2014-12-18.

January 15, 2016

Malthusian thinking

Filed under: Britain, History, India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Matt Ridley on how horrible implementations of the ideas of Thomas Malthus have made the world an even more cruel place:

For more than 200 years, a disturbingly vicious thread has run through Western history, based on biology and justifying cruelty on an almost unimaginable scale. It centres on the question of how to control human population growth and it answers that question by saying we must be cruel to be kind, that ends justify means. It is still around today; and it could not be more wrong. It is the continuing misuse of Malthus.

According to his epitaph in Bath Abbey, the Rev Thomas Robert Malthus, author of An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), was noted for “his sweetness of temper, urbanity of manners and tenderness of heart, his benevolence and his piety”. Yet his ideas have justified some of the greatest crimes in history. By saying that, if people could not be persuaded to delay marriage, we would have to encourage famine and “reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases”, he inadvertently gave birth to a series of heartless policies — the poor laws, the British government’s approach to famine in Ireland and India, social Darwinism, eugenics, the Holocaust, India’s forced sterilisations and China’s one-child policy. All derived their logic more or less directly from a partial reading of Malthus.

To this day if you write or speak about falling child mortality in Africa, you can be sure of getting the following Malthusian response: but surely it’s a bad thing if you stop poor people’s babies dying? Better to be cruel to be kind. Yet actually we now know, this argument is wrong. The way to get population growth to slow, it turns out, is to keep babies alive so people plan smaller families: to bring health, prosperity and education to all.

Britain’s Poor Law of 1834, which attempted to ensure that the very poor were not helped except in workhouses, and that conditions in workhouses were not better than the worst in the outside world, was based explicitly on Malthusian ideas — that too much charity only encouraged breeding, especially illegitimacy, or “bastardy”. The Irish potato famine of the 1840s was made infinitely worse by Malthusian prejudice shared by the British politicians in positions of power. The Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, was motivated by “a Malthusian fear about the long-term effect of relief”, according to a biographer. The Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, had been a pupil of Malthus at the East India Company College: famine, he thought, was an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” and a “direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence” sent to teach the “selfish, perverse and turbulent” Irish a lesson. Trevelyan added: “Supreme Wisdom has educed permanent good out of transient evil.”

In India in 1877, a famine killed ten million people. The viceroy, Lord Lytton, quoted almost directly from Malthus in explaining why he had halted several private attempts to bring relief to the starving: “The Indian population has a tendency to increase more rapidly than the food it raises from the soil.” His policy was to herd the hungry into camps where they were fed on — literally — starvation rations. Lytton thought he was being cruel to be kind.

December 17, 2015

♫ Admiral Yi: Drums of War – Sean and Dean Kiner – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

December 10, 2015

Korea: Admiral Yi – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Nov 2015

Yi’s life has been turned into a Confucian parable: a highly competent person who bore betrayal stoically and stayed loyal to the king. Since there was no record of his early life, that pattern is reflected in the way his early life is described. That pattern of thinking clearly influenced the historians who did cover Yi’s life, but while it stands out as unusual to those of us who aren’t familiar with that tradition, it has a subconscious impact on the people who were raised with Confucian thinking and wrote this history from it. If we looked at Western history from a foreign perspective, we would likely notice similar patterns being overlaid onto Western ways of telling history as well.

December 3, 2015

Korea: Admiral Yi – V: Martial Lord of Loyalty – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, China, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Oct 2015

After his success at Myeongnyang, Yi began rebuilding the Korean navy and strengthening his partnership with the Chinese. But then, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died. Japan’s new leaders had no interest in continuing the war, but although they sued for peace, Korea now held the upper hand and was determined to punish the people who had committed so many massacres against their people. Yi and the Chinese fleet bottled up the Japanese at the fort in Suncheon. When the Japanese called for reinforcements, Yi interrupted them in Noryang Strait. Again they were outnumbered, 500 to 150, but the Chinese commander did not yet understand Yi’s long range style of warfare and immediately closed for close combat. Yi ordered his flagship to rescue their allies, and as soon as the Japanese recognized him, they focused fire on him. This allowed the Chinese, suddenly forgotten, to fire freely on them. The Japanese realized their error and tried to flee, but Yi would have none of it. Beating the war drum himself, he urged his ships to chase the Japanese – to punish them for all the slaughter they brought to Korea. It was then that he was struck by a fatal gunshot. Before he died, he ordered his son and nephew to command the battle for him. They dressed in his armor to hide his death from the troops and continued beating the dream. Together, they carried the day – only for Yi’s tragic death to be revealed at the moment of victory. But although Yi did not live to see it, 300 Japanese ships were captured and destroyed that day and the rest of their invading force was rounded up soon after. For his tireless service, his brilliant leadership, and his unwavering devotion to Korea, Yi was given the posthumous title of Chungmugong, the Martial Lord of Loyalty.

November 26, 2015

Korea: Admiral Yi – IV: Those Who Seek Death Shall Live – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Oct 2015

Yi’s success had forced the Japanese to give up offensive naval operations, but their huge fleet remained entrenched in Busan harbor. While Yi pinned them down, reinforcements from the Chinese army had finally arrived and helped the Korean army take back the country on land. Yi petitioned for marines to take Busan back from the Japanese, but his requests were ignored. Instead, he focused on making his base on Hansando self-sufficient: he promised protection to refugees in exchange for them working the island, building his equipment, and even researching military technology. But a truce was called with Japan, one that dragged on for years until Hideyoshi broke it by ordering a second invasion. An informant brought word of secret, unprotected Japanese fleet movements, but Yi recognized it as a trap and refused to go. However, his friend Ryu’s enemies at court seized on this as an opportunity to put Yi on trial for treason. They demoted him again, and gave his fleet to Won Kyon. Won Kyon fell into the trap Yi had refused, and a coordinated surprise attack from the Japanese resulted in the destruction of all but 12 ships. Yi was quickly re-instated, but ordered to disband the navy. He refused, and planned his counterattack carefully: he would fight at Myeongnyang Strait, where he hoped the natural currents would do what his numbers could not. His plan worked: the reversing tide caught the Japanese by surprise and flung their ships against each other right as he pressed the attack. With 13 ships versus 133, he once again drove back Japan with zero losses to his own navy. Word of his success brought other ships out of hiding and convinced the Chinese navy to ally with him at last.

November 23, 2015

Do you have a smartphone? Do you watch TV? You might want to reconsider that combination

Filed under: India, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Register, Iain Thomson explains a new sneaky way for unscrupulous companies to snag your personal data without your knowledge or consent:

Earlier this week the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) warned that an Indian firm called SilverPush has technology that allows adverts to ping inaudible commands to smartphones and tablets.

Now someone has reverse-engineered the code and published it for everyone to check.

SilverPush’s software kit can be baked into apps, and is designed to pick up near-ultrasonic sounds embedded in, say, a TV, radio or web browser advert. These signals, in the range of 18kHz to 19.95kHz, are too high pitched for most humans to hear, but can be decoded by software.

An application that uses SilverPush’s code can pick up these messages from the phone or tablet’s builtin microphone, and be directed to send information such as the handheld’s IMEI number, location, operating system version, and potentially the identity of the owner, to the application’s backend servers.

Imagine sitting in front of the telly with your smartphone nearby. An advert comes on during the show you’re watching, and it has a SilverPush ultrasonic message embedded in it. This is picked up by an app on your mobile, which pings a media network with information about you, and could even display followup ads and links on your handheld.

How it works ... the transfer of sound-encoded information from a TV to a phone to a backend server

How it works … the transfer of sound-encoded information from a TV to a phone to a backend server

“This kind of technology is fundamentally surreptitious in that it doesn’t require consent; if it did require it then the number of users would drop,” Joe Hall, chief technologist at CDT told The Register on Thursday. “It lacks the ability to have consumers say that they don’t want this and not be associated by the software.”

Hall pointed out that very few of the applications that include the SilverPush SDK tell users about it, so there was no informed consent. This makes such software technically illegal in Europe and possibly in the US.

November 19, 2015

Korea: Admiral Yi – III: The Bright Moonlight of Hansando – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Oct 2015

While Yi found success at sea, the Korean land army suffered terrible losses. Yi Il, the man who once accused Yi of negligence, lost one battle after another, until finally the regular forces were annihilated at Chungju. The Joseon court that ruled to Korea fled to Pyongyang, on the verge of being pushed out of their own country. But that same day, Admiral Yi tore through a Japanese fleet at Okpo. He moved on to Sacheon, where he baited the Japanese commander into a trap and debuted his turtle ship. The unstoppable turtle ship carried the day, so he used this tactic again and again he destroyed a Japanese fleet while suffering no losses of his own. Finally, Hideyoshi ordered his naval commanders to take Jeolla, Yi’s headquarters. Sadly for him, his general Wakisaka Yasaharu grew too eager and engaged Yi without backup at Gyeonnaeryang Strait, only to find himself lured into an even more sophisticated version of Yi’s bait-and-retreat strategy: a “Crane’s Wing” of ships that collapsed on the overextended target from all sides. In one of the largest naval battles in history, Yi scored a decisive win and again didn’t lose a single ship. He headed to Angolpo to attack Hideyoshi’s two remaining generals and seal his victory, but they refused to be baited. He had to settle for a long range exchange of cannon fire, which worked at the cost of many injuries to his own men. In the end, he destroyed all but a few Japanese ships, and those he only spared to give the Japanese some means to escape and stop raiding in Korea. But he had accomplished his goal: Hideyoshi ordered a halt to all naval operations except guarding Busan, and without this control of the sea, Japan could not re-supply their troops nor hope to resume the assault that would have finally pushed Korea’s leaders out of Korea.

November 12, 2015

Korea: Admiral Yi – II: Be Like a Mountain – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Oct 2015

Japan invaded Korea after a series of long civil wars that had finally culminated in Toyotomi Hideyoshi leading a unified Japanese army. Their martial society had trained extensively with weapons like the arquebus, early guns, and the civil war had given them tremendous experience with siegecraft. By contrast, Korea had not been at war for hundreds of years: they were mostly troubled by raiders from without and corrupt government officials from within. However, their unique situation meant that they had great cannons for fighting off pirates and secure if minimal hill-top forts. As a tributary ally of the Chinese, the Koreans were startled and confused when Japan asked permission to march through their territory and make war on China. Many officials thought the Japanese were only bluffing, but Ryu Seong-ryong recognized the threat and made sure his friend Yi was moved to naval service to help defend the country. Yi trained his men and commissioned a new ironside ship design called the Turtle Ship. Unfortunately, other commanders did not take the threat seriously: even when Japanese ships appeared on the horizon, the southern commander convinced himself it was a trade fleet and took no action while the ships docked, then unloaded their soldiers onto Korean soil. The well-trained Japanese army crushed the Korean army and quickly advanced to Seoul. Meanwhile, Yi organized his small fleet of warships and launched quick strikes against the Japanese navy, catching them off-guard and on-patrol. He destroyed 43 enemy ships without losing a single one of his own, and was promoted accordingly to become the new Southern Commander of the Korean navy.

November 5, 2015

Korea: Admiral Yi – I: Keep Beating the Drum – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Sep 2015

Admiral Yi Sun-sin of Korea began his legendary career with a series of disasters. Fate (and corrupt officials) conspired against him to have him repeatedly knocked down from the success he had earned, often because his insistence on strict military codes and refusal to ignore corruption made enemies of his fellow officers. Even when his superior had him tortured and blamed after a loss to the Jurchen raiders from the north, Yi persevered. Stripped of his rank and now reduced to a common enlisted man, Yi nevertheless served Korea with distinction. Meanwhile his childhood friend, Ryu Seong-ryong, had risen to become the prime minister of Korea. Ryu recognized the threat of war from Japan looming on the horizon, so when Yi asked to retire in 1588, Ryu convinced him to stay.

October 18, 2015

Playboy‘s biggest market today

Filed under: Business, China, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh on why the Playboy brand is so attractive to the Chinese market:

Playboy was once an important cultural force; and what are Chinese men and women buying when they buy jewelry or clothing with the Playboy bunny on it? They are buying a small stake in an anti-puritan, worldly vision of the good life. Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy philosophy,” which he used to set out in windy essays sandwiched between the pictorials, is still considered good for a laugh decades later. But every magazine does express a philosophy, whether or not it chooses to yammer on about doing so, and Playboy’s epicureanism was a powerful one. It practically amounted to a guarantee to the customer: if you bought Playboy, the only uplift you were at risk of encountering would involve lingerie, not morality.

When you were done being titillated by an issue of the magazine, the ads and the articles about stereos and cigars and cocktails were there to linger as an aftertaste, making a subtle but sharp imprint on one’s endocrine system. It is hard for us to appreciate what this kind of thing means in a strongly collectivist, egalitarian society. People who visited the old Soviet bloc, and who saw what blue jeans or heavy-metal cassettes did to the brains of the people there, will have some idea. It is an enigma of 20th-century history: stuff that seems trivial to a Western consumer somehow encodes a message of choice and private aspiration that can never be expressed as powerfully as an explicit proposition.

October 14, 2015

Toyota’s ISIS problem

Filed under: Japan, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Diplomat, Franz-Stefan Gady looks at the problem for Toyota because their vehicles have become the favourites of ISIS and other terrorist groups:

The United States has launched an investigation to determine how the terror group ISIS was able to acquire a large number of Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs ABC News reported this week.

Japanese car manufacturer Toyota, the world’s second-largest auto maker, has pledged full cooperation with U.S. authorities and is “supporting” the inquiry led by the Terror Financing division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“We briefed Treasury on Toyota’s supply chains in the Middle East and the procedures that Toyota has in place to protect supply chain integrity,” according to a D.C.-based spokesperson of Toyota. However, “it is impossible for Toyota to completely control indirect or illegal channels through which our vehicles could be misappropriated,” he added.

According to Toyota sales data, the number of Hilux and Land Cruisers sold tripled from 6,000 in Iraq in 2011 to 18,000 sold in 2013. However, sales dropped to 13,000 in 2014.

Toyota Hilux pickup trucks – a lightweight virtually indestructible vehicle – have been prominently featured in various ISIS propaganda videos and played an important role in ISIS’ conquests of large stretches of Iraqi territory last summer by acting as a force multiplier.

Armed with a .50 caliber machine gun the Hilux truck’s maneuverability provided insurgents quickly with close-range fire support during their attacks. Back in 2010, the counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen referred to the Hilux as “a modern version of light cavalry. They move weapons into positions to fire, and can also shift people around very quickly, with a quick dismount.”

Full disclosure: I’m currently driving a ten-year-old Toyota pickup truck (a Tacoma, which I think is the North American version of the Hilux). My next vehicle is likely to be another Toyota pickup truck. They may not be technically indestructible, but I’ve been very impressed with the performance and durability of my particular vehicle.

October 11, 2015

Take all the negative aspects of social media … and then tie in your political and financial activities

Filed under: China, Government, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Welcome to China’s idea of the perfect social media environment. Charles Stross describes the proposal and its likely impact on Chinese life:

So, let’s start by synopsizing the Privacy Online News report. It’s basically a state-run universal credit score, where you’re measured on a scale from 350 to 950. But it’s not just about your financial planning ability; it also reflects your political opinions. On the financial side, if you buy products the government approves of your credit score increases: wastes of time (such as video games) cost you points. China’s main social networks feed data into it and you can lose points big-time by expressing political opinions without prior permission, talking about history (where it diverges from the official version — e.g. the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square — hey, I just earned myself a negative credit score there!), or saying anything that’s politically embarrassing.

The special social network magic comes into play when you learn that if your friends do this, your score also suffers. You can see what they just did to you: are you angry yet? Social pressure is a pervasive force and it’s going to be exerted on participants whether they like it or not, by friends looking for the goodies that come from having a high citizen score: goodies like instant loans for online shopping, car rentals without needing a deposit, or fast-track access to foreign travel visas. Also, everyone’s credit score is visible online, making it easy to ditch those embarrassingly ranty cocktail-party friends who insist on harshing your government credit karma by not conforming.

The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge?

But don’t worry, I could make it a whole lot worse.

The first notable point about this system is that it’s an oppressive system that runs at a profit. Consider the instant no-collateral loans for online shopping: the Chinese system only grants these to folks who are a good credit bet. The debt will be repaid. Meanwhile it goes into providing a Keynesian stimulus for the productive side of the economy. And it rewards people for political right-thinking. What’s not to like?

Governments love nudge theory because it offers a cheap shortcut to enforcing social policy, even when the social policy in question is utterly broken. Paying a cop costs money — not just their salary and the cost of their uniform, but the station they work out of, the support personnel who keep the police force operating (janitors, human resources, vehicle maintenance), and the far less tangible political cost of being seen to wield a big stick and force people not to do what they want to do (or to do things that you want them to). Using big data to give folks a credit score, then paying them bright and shiny but essentially cost-free bonuses if they do what you want? That’s priceless. You may not be able to track folks who like to toke up directly (if it’s illegal in your jurisdiction), but you can penalize them for hanging out with known cannabis users and buying paraphernalia. More to the point, you can socially isolate users and get their family to give them grief without the unpalatable excesses (and negative headlines) of no-knock raids and cops kicking down the wrong door and shooting children by mistake. One may ask whether the medical marijuana movement and decriminalization pressure would have got off the ground in the United States if a citizenship scoring system with downvotes for pot users was in place. Or whether emancipatory rights movements could exist at all in a society that indirectly penalizes people for “wrong lifestyle choices” rather than relying on imperfectly applied but very visible and hateful boots and nightsticks.

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