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February 2011

Some people have all the luck

"Discovered Ming vase will make retired factory worker wealthy".

It's the dream of any antique collector: You impulsively spend a few bucks on a trinket at an estate sale or an antiques store, and later discover that it's worth more than what you paid for it. Much more.

And that's pretty much the dream that came true for a 79-year-old British retired worker from the Cadbury chocolate factory, who recently walked into an auction house with a near-perfect Ming vase in a cardboard box.

"What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness The decline and fall of American English, and stuff"

Former speechwriter for Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani laments something that sorely needs lamenting.

Is Vagueness simply an unexplainable descent into nonsense? Did Vagueness begin as an antidote to the demands of political correctness in the classroom, a way of sidestepping the danger of speaking forbidden ideas? Does Vagueness offer an undereducated generation a technique for camouflaging a lack of knowledge?

No answers, but these are good questions.

"I wanted desperately for it to be right, for my ethics to outweigh my physiology"

Young woman following a vegan diet very reluctantly concludes that her diet is making her ill. With the advice and encouragement of her doctor, she begins eating some animal products. And this happens:

Within one week I was able to stand up without seeing black spots in my eyes, and I was sleeping peacefully through the night. To my relief, my constant stomach pains and bloating completely vanished. Within 2 weeks I noticed my allergies were diminishing, even at a time when all the trees and flowers in our community were beginning to bloom. Also at 2 weeks I no longer needed a sweater just to sit on the couch, my toes and fingers had stopped feeling like perpetual icicles. At 3 weeks I could complete a light 20 minute cardio workout without feeling dizzy or nauseous, something I had been unable to accomplish for months. At 3 weeks I also noticed the most amazing change of all: my depression was diminishing. Days would go by when I wouldn’t succumb to hours of sobbing or listlessness. At 4 weeks I noticed three very strange things: my mysterious lower back pain that had been bothering me for nearly a year had vanished, even though I hadn’t changed my shoes or done any physical therapy; the skin on my face was plump and full and the fine lines that I had figured were just a sign of being nearly 30 had faded so much they were barely discernible, even though I had not changed anything about my skin care routine; and finally, I noticed my hair was thicker, shinier, and much fuller than it had been in years, even though I hadn’t changed anything about my hair care routine.

Interesting story with an almost completely happy ending. Only "almost" because she is subjected to a fair amount of abuse from the "community".

"Which Stocks Will Rise? Ask Google"

Summary of a study to appear in the Journal of Finance:

Stocks that saw a surge in search volume (one standard deviation, in statistics parlance) beat the market by two-tenths of a percentage point over the following week. That means an investor who could consistently identify such stocks and trade on a large number of them could beat the market by 10 percentage points a year, minus transaction costs.

I'll take their word for it that this worked in the past. But five words of warning: it won't work much longer.

Indeed, it may already be partly broken.

As for the broader study results, the share price surge seen by heavily searched stocks during early weeks tends to reverse within a year, so firms seeking to trade on Google data had better be nimble.