Posts tagged with Michael Pollan

  • Africans drink 7 litres of commercial beer per year.
  • Chinese drink 35 litres of commercial beer per year.
  • Americans drink 70+ litres of commercial beer per year.

(minute 7)

From my own little corner of the Earth, it looks like home-brewed beer is growing in appeal—as are micro-brews and wines & ciders made from fruits with a little more natural variation.

So it’s interesting that—just when my crowd is being led by Pied Piper Pollan away from Corporate Consistency-topia into the Land of Natural Individual Variation—those climbing up the Ladder of Disposable Income might drift the opposite direction.


I was going to try to make an alluring mathematical comment on this story, but I’m out of steam. Here are the mathematical concepts involved in this story:

  • "direction" — implies ∃ beer space, ∋ beer vectors
  • this is a perceptual space — what are the dimensions? Is it linear?
  • how would you mathematically model variable-versus-consistent beer tastes?

    Maybe as a contour plot / heatmap of confidence intervals? Or a Schwartz distribution?

    I wouldn’t assume that the variation is Gaussian. Whatever the taste / smell space looks like, a lot of the variation in homebrewing is due to creativity (discontinuous leaps to elsewhere in the space) — not just to production “errors” (which might in fact be normal).

PS Tusker Beer rules.


In Remembering the Kanji, James Heissig evokes a good point about power, force, manipulation, cause, and influence.


☯ 陰 Agere

"It is not sure whether the long slender object is seducing the small round one or vice versa."

He’s making a point about pull versus push, yin 阴 vs yang 阳 as different ways of getting the same thing done. Who’s more powerful — Sampson or Delilah? Imagine a beautiful woman who asks a strong man to bend an iron bar. He can’t do it right away, so he trains for months under the pretense that bending the bar will curry favour with the beautiful woman. After 36 weeks of training, he’s finally strong enough to bend the bar and does so. Who “caused” the bar to be bent? Didn’t the woman get more done with less effort on her part?

But either way, push-ing, force-ing, cause-ing, make-ing, do-ing (yang 陽) isn’t going to result in consensual relations. Effective is to beckon, entice, engender, subduce, induce, or otherwise draw into action (yin 陰).

(Why do you think it’s called “pulling” ?)



It’s like Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire (vided). He observes that apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes have coevolved with humans so as to cause us to like them. Pairing with humans is an effective strategy for prosperity, since we weed out what we don’t like and plant megahectares of what we do like.

In a rough paraphrase of a lecture Pollan gave: “The United States has a second lawn: millions of acres of corn, which corn could not have conquered alone. By appealing to human tastes, corn has enslaved — or enticed  — us into replicating its genes. We are corn’s nuclear weapon.”

Who is really domesticating whom? Dogs, cats, bees, bunnies, cows, and pandas have also thrived by enticing us (yin 陰) — whereas cockroaches, mosquitoes, rats, vermin, pests, and weeds have chosen Earth’s most technological species as their enemy (yang 陽).


Rivers & Lakes, Potential Wells, T’ui Shou & Management

There are many more parallels to Heissig’s point about “feminine” 阴 power.

In T’ui Sh’ou (scholar boxing), Sansh’ou, Aikido, Judo, and other grappling arts, fighters are trained to make use of, or redirect 陰, the efforts of their opponent (as well as to 阳 strike).

Say water is flowing into a lake. Is gravity 阳-forcing the water downward into the lake? Or did the digging of a hole 阴-pull the water into the potential well? When you build a dam in the lake, do you 阳-fortify the structure or 阴-reshape the walls so less sturdy materials are needed? These are dual optimisation problems.

In particle accelerators we can 阳 turn up the energy to 阳-push the electrons into higher orbitals; in a solar panel we’re stuck with the sun’s energy 阳-beating down on the desert at a bounded hν. We have to 阴-reshape our devices to 阴-harvest more of what’s already there.

In classical statistics, hypothesis testing is a bit like the potential wells. You can add more observations 阳 to strengthen the p value, or you can 阴 change the null hypothesis. As Bill Becker pointed out as expert testimony during a trial about wage discrimination based on gender: there is equal support for null hypotheses either above or below the observed (sample) mean.

In finance, imagine you have a trading signal. You want to improve it. You can either aim to bet more 阳 when your signal is most likely to profit, or you can try to bet zero 阴 when your signal is least likely to profit. Either will increase the expected return of your strategy, but getting out of the way 阴 has the added benefit of reducing transactions costs.

In romantic relationships, of course, there is a 阳-push and 阴-pull as well. Yielding 阴 and standing up for 阳 what you want are both necessary.  ”There used to be a fighting style called the 棉 cotton school 阴, but its practitioners are all dead.” And everyone who always said, “Whatever you want” no longer has that marriage.

Yanking 阳 an object out of a hole with as much 阳-force as possible requires more energy, might not work, and might destroy the hole — or the object — in the process. You won’t get Chinese handcuffs off that way either. Wiggling 阳阴 the object out, alternately pulling 阴 and pushing 阳 to find the easiest path, is less stressful to the structure and to you.

In management, not every battle needs to be 阳-fought. If you 阴-bring the right people in line with the right tasks, then they will 阳-expend their energy in a more productive way. 阴-Aligning teams that complement each other 阴-harvests more work from the same 阳-force. But that’s not to say that 阳-pushing back or 阳阴-guiding is unnecessary. Bullies need to be 阳-ejected from the ring, and the 阳阴-boss is still the 阳-boss.