Monday, April 30, 2007

Dumb and rich...

Following up on Nathan's post, I remember that my statistics teacher at INSEAD (a business school) gathered data on student's grades and their salaries 5 years after graduation. He then ran a correlation test, and he found that there is a statistically significant correlation... negative! In other words, on average, the higher the grades, the lower the salaries after 5 years.

Possible explanations? I'll give mine: students with higher grades tend to be more risk-averse, and risk brings big rewards (for instance, self employment, etc).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Joost Tokens available

We have a few tokens available for Joost, the video service launched by Skype's founders. Contact us if you want some.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

If You're So Dumb, Why Aren't You Rich?

I just found the following entry while reading my RSS feed of my favorite blogs; this is from Paul Kedrosky's personal business blog:

Crazy-fun new study in press at the journal Intelligence. It attempts to puzzle out the connection between IQ and wealth, only to come up with the entertaining -- if unsurprising -- result: There isn't one. Bad news for brainy geeks everywhere.

While it doesn't stand up to statistical scrutiny, an eyeball check of the above figure does make it look like there is a soft inverse relationship. In other words, maybe we should be accusing random foolish sorts among us of being smarter than they're acting: Hey, if you're so dumb, how come you're not rich?!

These type of studies get us all thinking, or not...

Fring - Skype from your mobile

Here is a world - changing application: Fring. Fring allows you to access your skype account from your mobile phone. You can chat and even talk with other skype users. And with skypeout (and soon fringout) you can call anyone in the world at skype's rates instead of mobile rates.

We invite you to try it at

Monday, April 23, 2007

25 years of the Sinclair Spectrum

I just read that the Sinclair Spectrum turned 25 today. Most of you probably don't know what it was. It was a tiny computer, which connected to a TV for output, had a Zilog ZX-80 microprocessor, 48k of RAM (yes that is a K, as in kilobytes), no hard disk, and loaded (and saved) programs from a cassette tape connected through an audio cable. You could actually hear the programs, they sounded like a modem. The keyboard was made of rubber, and each key represented 3 different things: a letter, a symbol (or number), and a BASIC instruction.

As you can guess, it was my first computer. I bought it in London for about 300 USD.
I read the complete manual on my flight back home (it included a BASIC tutorial, as well as the famous PEEK and POKE instructions, which let you write directly into the memory).

Back home I went on to learn about microprocessors, programming, etc., and since then I simply never stopped.

How old is old?

I heard a very interesting podcast this week. It was part of the "Motley Fool Profiles" series (unfortunately the series is no longer being aired). On this podcast, Dave Gardner intervewed Ken Dychtwald, author of the book The Power Years: A User's Guide to the Rest of Your Life.

Some very interesting facts:
  • Two thirds of all the people over 65 that ever lived are alive today. Put it another way: for every person in the history of mankind that died after the age of 65, there are two people over 65 alive today.
  • Life expectancy at birth increases by 2.5 years every decade. This means that chances are that my younger son will live 8 years longer than me.
  • Pensions were introduced in 1899 by Bismarck, and they benefited "old people", i.e. those older than 65. At that time, life expectancy at birth was 47 years. Today it is 77.8.
  • Today, if you live to the age of 65, you still have, on average, 18.7 years to live (US figures).
  • At the time of Bismarck's reform, a very small percentage of people received pensions. To maintain the same percentage today, retirement age should be 95!
  • The vast majority of over-65 people say that they do not want to retire. They want to keep active, although probably part-time.
What does all this mean? There are many consequences that we can foresee, and many more that will only become clear much later. Some of mine:
  • An obvious one: Pensions need to be reformed. If we now need to save (contribute to a pension scheme) for 30 years, and enjoy the fruits for 18.7 years, then, at the current rates, numbers do not add up. If, in 30 years time, the life expectancy at the age of 65 becomes 26.2, then the trouble is greater still.
  • Nobody should count too much on state pensions. We all should be saving ourselves.
  • Doctors can make us live longer, but we need prepare ourselves for living those 10 or 15 extra years. In what shape will our bodies be? What do we need to do to have our minds ready for 15 more years? By the way, I read once that people that play chess or bridge have two thirds less probability of developing Alzheimer's disease.
  • Our economies need to find ways to employ older people, even if it is part time.
  • There is a huge and exploiting market selling to people over 65. Expect them to be active, have some labor income and substantial investment income.
I gave some thought to the 2.5 extra years every decade. After doing some research, I found that it is not entirely true: life expectancy increased in 20 years in the first half of the 20th century, and in roughly 1.8 years every decade thereafter. Adding those first 20 years was fairly easy. All you had to do is improve nutrition, improve hygiene, reduce child mortality, invent antibiotics and develop vaccines. I don't mean that those changes and inventions were easy, only that they were few "heavy rocks" that had to be removed. Going from 67 to 77 was way much more difficult. To add those 10 years we had to develop cures and therapies for a very large variety of diseases (ulcer, many types of heart disease, many forms of cancer, many now-disappeared diseases, etc), and to remove some other non-medical heavy rocks (traffic accidents, wars).

Adding an extra 10 years will be much more difficult, probably an order of magnitude more. Surely there must be a point where it is just physically impossible to improve life expectancy. The human body is incredibly complex, and there comes an age where everything starts to fail: the bones, the muscles, the digestive system, the nervous system. And there must be some physical limit to how long people can live.

This reminds me of Moore's law in semiconductors. Moore's law says that the power of microprocessors doubles every 18 months. Moore's law has applied for decades, and for decades people have predicting its demise: there must be a point where the laws of physics do not allow to improve the processor power. And the complexity of doubling the speed is ever greater, mainly because there are so many things to improve, so many rocks to remove to go from one level to the next. As it turned out, our ingenuity has so far been able to match the ever-increasing number and complexity of these problems.

In medicine as in semiconductors, the task of fighting disease is ever more complex. I bet on our ingenuity to keeping up to the challenge. I propose an analog to Moore's law, that says that life expectancy will keep increasing by 1.8 years every decade, for centuries to come.