Single-serving sites

Some sites that do one thing well, for free: – event planning for multiple participants – useful to avoid dud seats when checking in online – fast/safe way to remember to come back to an email or action later – all the possible ways of getting from a to b

World War III insurance premium of €1,000 a year

I came across this quote recently combining physics and economics, nice:

There is no politician who will ignore the laws of physics when building a bridge. But there is a tendency in politics in every country to suppose that the laws of economics are flexible and can be adjusted to political necessity

Quite timely given the events in Europe.

The Treaty(ies) of Rome, signed in 1957, established the EEC.

In a rush to get the ratification process completed, the signing ceremony was scheduled before the agreement was reached:

They signed a bundle of blank pages. The first title existed in 4 languages, and also the protocol at the end. Nobody looked at what was in between – Pierre Pescatore

By 1968 a Customs Union of these founding 6 members – Benelux, France, [West] Germany, Italy – was fully in place.

The overall resultant uplift in GDP 5 years later, apportioned to being from the extra free trade created amongst these 6 contiguous states, was… 0.15% (Balassa, 1975). Small wonder that European integration has been described as being more about political integration, rather than economic integration.

Yet all the while there is a remedy…it is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe – Winston Churchill, 1946

Today, the 27 member states each contribute roughly 1% of their GDP, which is then redistributed around Europe in the form of subsidies, projects, etc. The net benefit, per person per country, in Euros, has Luxembourg – the richest country by far – doing very well, thank you very much:

Net per capita benefit from EU budget


In fairness, these are not easy calculations to do, and it gets trickier for smaller countries where the beneficiary of a grant can be an MNC, with a HQ that happens to be in that country. I’ve seen a figure closer to €2k for Luxembourg in another source.

Rome wasn’t built in a day; Wikipedia was

How amazing an achievement is Wikipedia?

There are approaching 4,000,000 articles in the English language version. Let’s say that on average each one took 10 hours to write (I think this is way on the high side given how many stubs there are). That’s 40m man-hours. By way of contrast, the Great Pyramid at Giza was estimated to have used an average workforce of 15,000 for 10 years (according to, hmm, Wikipedia), which comes to around 20x as much effort as

Presume only Americans have contributed and that the average American watches 5 hours of tv per day.

If 3% of the population chose not to watch tv today, then the entire content of wikipedia could be written by them during that time.

Another way of expressing it would be if every adult contributed for c10 minutes you’d have Wikipedia.

Anyway, here is a history of the world in 100 seconds built using geocoding of articles on wikipedia:

Spend £2 more on wine

The average price point for a bottle of wine bought in the UK is £4.50.

At that level, 56% is tax. Add on to that marketing, packaging, distribution, and perhaps only 50p is the cost of the wine itself.

Spending an extra £2 at this price point is likely to increase the quality of grapes used by 2x or more.

The Microsoft Excel World Champion is…

…a 15-yr-old English girl.

HT to Simon Moore at

Weekend links

The Secret Language of Entrepreneurs

My office: My apartment

Next week is pretty open for me: I have absolutely nothing scheduled.

We have a really short lead-time: We have no other clients right now.

Importing cars into Ukraine

…people who import cars to Ukraine sometimes cut the car in two separate pieces and carry it through the customs this way. By doing this, they save a fortune on import tax. A car carried in two pieces is seen as spare parts and therefore is taxed at a much lower rate than a normal car. When in Ukraine, the car is welded back into one piece. After that, it’s usually sold locally at a good price. I looked through forums and apparently this is a common practise in developing countries, particularly in post-Soviet states such as Ukraine.


Maths of cities

A good Ted Talk available here on the maths of cities and corporations and comparing with relationships found in biology – every week, from now until 2050, 1 million people will be added to the population of the planet’s cities.

There are economies of scale for mammals (such as this relationship which holds over 8 orders of magnitude in size) as there are for cities:

Going, going, gone

A lengthy article about ebay, and the decline of the auction component of transactions.

The majority of goods are now sold through the buy-it-now button, with just 31% of all sales on the site occuring through its traditional auction system. The experience of auctions changed over time, generally in ways that made them less appealing to both buyers and sellers:

  1. Sniping removed the fun of participating in an auction over several days as bidders saw themselves losing in the last second to automated programmes.
  2. As the number of users grew, the chances that someone would vastly overpay, or find a great bargain, diminished because the market became more efficient, i.e., the final auction bid tended towards the “correct” fixed price.


Will this post go viral?

Not likely.

The spread of ideas and purchases is often assumed to be viral. Statistics from Facebook, twitter, and yahoo were collected and considered in a paper discussed here: which seems to suggest that social network effects for the most part are unimportant.

“The vast majority of adoptions occur either without peer-to-peer influence or within one step of an independent adopter,” as shown in this diagram:

“…the dominant diffusion event, accounting for between 70% to 95% of cascades, is the trivial one: an individual adopts the product in question and doesn’t convert any of their contacts. The next most common event, again in all six domains, is an independent adopter who attracts a single additional adopter. In fact, across domains only 1%-4% of diffusion trees extend beyond one degree.”

The first thought I had was that a small number of chains might be enormous, and hence there are dominant viral effects, but apparently that is not so (only 1-6% of adoptions were found to have occured more than one level away from the initiator).