Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book concluding that migration is beneficial to rich and poor

Geese migrating

The Economist has a review of a book on migration which sounds extremely interesting. This is something I often think about as I find myself constrained by the country of my birth.

I think that there is a strong argument that discriminating against someone based on country of birth is like discriminating against someone based on race.

But this book makes an even more powerful argument: the economic benefits of migration vastly outweigh the costs.

For instance take the second paragraph:

“If rich countries were to admit enough migrants from poor countries to expand their own labour forces by a mere 3%, the world would be richer, according to one estimate, by $356 billion a year. Completely opening borders would add an astonishing $39 trillion over 25 years to the global economy. That is more than 500 times the amount the rich world spends on foreign aid each year. Migration is the most effective tool yet devised for reducing global poverty.

The book discusses the history of migration before going on to argue that more migration would benefit both poor countries and rich countries.

Poor countries

On the balance migration helps poor countries even though they may lose some of their most skilled citizens. People have an incentive to develop marketable skills but might not migrate; skilled workers often return home after working abroad; migrants send significant amounts of money back to poor countries. And of course the migrants themselves obviously benefit or they wouldn’t leave.

Rich countries

Multiple studies have apparently shown that migrants create more jobs and employment than they consume. Host nations are net beneficiaries of migration. The USA is a nation built on immigrants! Finally, demographic shifts mean that rich countries may come to depend on migrants as their workforces age.


The smart (and I would argue morally correct) move is to allow more immigration. Sadly the world seems to be moving in the opposite direction.



Why you shouldn’t use Internet Explorer

Comparison of IE9 with Firefox

The history of web browsers is actually quite interesting. Back in the distant past the two big players were Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Microsoft won that particular battle in the late 90’s by bundling IE with Windows. Effectively most people came to think of the internet as IE.

After destroying the competition Microsoft simply stopped developing IE and we were stuck with the pile of trash that is Internet Explorer 6.

Luckily today we have excellent alternatives, most notably in Firefox and (my recommendation) Google Chrome. Faced with competition and plummeting market share Microsoft are now desperately trying to catch up. But they are still miles behind.

A Firefox developer recently released a comparison of Firefox with the newest version of Internet Explorer, IE9 which is due to be released later this year. The comparison shows that even the upcoming IE9 is way behind Firefox in terms of features.

Google Chrome is even better than Firefox! It is faster, more stable, and has more features.

Despite all this, too many people still use Internet Explorer! You can do better. The internet can be faster, easier and safer so easily.

You shouldn’t use Internet Explorer.

Graphically illustrating the impact of HIV and ARVs

Graph showing a significant dip in life expectancy for some African countries. Coincides with the rise of HIV/AIDS

Recently someone posted this graph on Reddit. It’s an incredible illustration of the impact of HIV/AIDS on some African countries. Correlation isn’t the same as causation, but it isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that the vicious dips in life expectancy are a result of HIV and AIDS.

In the comments section of the Reddit post (always useful to read) someone posted a link to Gapminder (Gapminder are the famous animated bubbles graphing guys) showing more recent data.

It seems that in recent years the graphs have swerved back upward again as ARV’s and more effective AIDS prevention are rolled out.

Graph showing the rise in life expectancy that coincides with the roll out of ARVs and better HIV prevention

Google creates awesome translating app for Android

Google has just announced an update to the translate app for their Android mobile platform. The update includes an incredible (but still experimental feature that translates) spoken conversations.

So if you’re in Spain you can open up this app on your phone and speak English to it. The application translates what you said and responds in spoken Spanish. Amazing!

Conversation mode in Google Translate for Android

The feature is still experimental but has a lot of promise. The best way of understanding it is by viewing this demonstration video.

Hard work can be good

Great tits seem to benefit from hard work

It’s a cliché but it seems that sometimes it really is better when things don’t come too easily. Working to attain goals seems to be good for the psyche – when things come too easily we stagnate.

The Economist reports on an interesting experiment that appears to illustrate this effect. In birds.

The birds in question (great tits) rise before dawn and sing their little hearts out to attract mates. It is known that those who rise earliest obtain more mates and are better able to defend their territory.

The experimenters suspected that feeding some birds would make them stronger and enable them to rise earlier than their unfed competitors.

The results however showed that the fed birds became lazy and started rising later than those birds that had to find food the hard way.

What’s a Spoonerism

The Lord is a showing leopardI was just reading this article (about an exhibition examining the history of English) in which I came across the word spoonerism. What’s a spoonerism? I instantly headed on to Wikipedia.

A spoonerism is a deliberate or accidental error in which corresponding parts of words are switched. Examples make this clearer:

  • Go and shake a tower (take a shower)
  • A blushing crow (crushing blow)
  • A bat flattery (flat battery)

My personal favorite example by miles:

The Lord is a shoving leopard

(a loving shephard)

Lonely Okavango wild dog teaming up with jackals and hyena

An adult wild dog on friendly terms with a hyenaThis fascinating article describes a case where a lone wild dog is actively teaming up with hyenas and jackals.

There were plenty of wild dog in the area in the past, but as lion population increased the local wild dog clan was wiped out.

This single adult female remained, and the rangers assumed that she would soon be killed.

However, she has been thriving with “help from some highly unusual and totally unexpected quarters.”

She has integrated fairly well with the larger members of the local hyena clan. She has been photographed interacting and even touching noses with them.

She also “solicits adult black-backed jackals to follow her on the hunt and even regurgitates meat on her return for the growing jackal pups!”

It seems that wild dogs have incredibly strong social instincts. So strong that when this animal had no other wild dogs to interact with she formed bonds with animals of another species. Amazing.

A lone adult wild dog that solicits help from jackals when hunting

How credit card numbers are formed

The first time I had to replace a credit card (stolen) I noticed that many of the digits were the same. My wife has a card from the same bank and she also shares most digits with me.

Obviously the first few digits are bank specific.

This page has a brief outline of the meaning behind the numbers.

The first digit is the type of card:

  • 3 = Amex or Diners Club
  • 4 = VISA
  • 5 = Mastercard

The rest of the digits depend on the type of card.

The format of VISA credit card numbers


  • T is for the type of card. In this case always 4 as this is a VISA card
  • B is a six digit code for the bank
  • A is a 9 digit account number
  • C is a check digiti calculated from all of the other digits

How South African ID numbers are formed

Everyone knows that South African ID numbers start with date of birth. If you were born on May 13, 1988 then your ID number starts with 880513.

This post details what the rest of the digits in an ID number mean.

The format is:

{YYMMDD} {G} {SSS} {C} {X} {Z}

  • {YYMMDD} is the date of birth
  • {G} is gender. 0-4 is female and 5-9 is male
  • {SSS} is a sequence number
  • {C} is citizenship. 0 for South Africans and 1 for other citizens
  • {X} is usually 8 or 9 – not clear what this is
  • {Z} is a check digit calculated from the other digits

So for the ID number 8909025012083 we know certain things about the person:

  • Born on September 2nd, 1989
  • Male
  • 12th male born on that date to get an ID number
  • South African citizen

Not very useful, but interesting.

The Economist on corruption in South Africa

The latest Economist has an article on corruption in South Africa. It makes for pretty frightening reading.


The article mentions several high profile cases of corruption: Zuma, Cwele, Selebi, etc.

There is also discussion of several other examples of corruption.

  • 400,000 civil servants getting welfare payments to which they are not entitled
  • 6,000 senior government officials who failed to declare business interests and are awaiting disciplinary hearings
  • 423 prison officials disciplined for corruption; 26 criminally charged
  • 923 corrupt officials from the ministry of public works have been ‘brought to book’


Corruption among those in power is a human condition. However, it seems that ANC officials are especially prone to corruption.

Even Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, explains that too many “comrades” regard election to office as simply a chance to get rich.

The Economist also mentions that corruption in South Africa is exacerbated by “a culture of entitlement to compensate for past suffering under apartheid”.

In other words many in the ANC feel entitled to take their fill because of our history. As I have blogged in the past, a feeling of entitlement has been shown to make corruption significantly worse.

Silver lining

The ANC claims to be working on several corruption busting laws and measures including:

  • Laws to facilitate swifter and reliable prosecution of corrupt officials
  • A review of the ANC’s deployment policies which currently put people into jobs based on having the right connections instead of the right skills
  • Tougher rules and more openness on the awarding of public contracts
  • Better protection for whistle blowers who are often suspended for “poking their noses into smelly areas”