Friday, February 22, 2008

Pareto Pessimum

A Pareto Optimum is a cute idea in optimization theory: In simple problems, you have one or more decision variables and one objective; your task is to find out the right values for the variables so that your objective is maximized (or minimized, depends on your way of looking at it).

Life gets interesting when you have many objectives all depending on the same one or more decision variables. The wiki page describes it rather neatly:

Given a set of alternative allocations of, say, income for a set of individuals, a movement from one allocation to another that can make at least one individual better off without making any other individual worse off is called a Pareto improvement. An allocation is Pareto efficient or Pareto optimal when no further Pareto improvements can be made. This is often called a Pareto optimum.

The old Guns-vs-Butter curve in economics is a standard example.

Life gets really interesting when you're in a situation where you can't make a move without making someone worse off, and by no means could you bear that state being called any kind of 'optimum'. A Pareto 'pessimum', then ? :-(

May you live in interesting times. - Spiteful old Chinese curse

[Now who could have guessed that that quote has a riveting wiki page of its own?]

Update: 23Feb: In the intoxicating spirit of 'Why put up a new post when you can make a tenuous 5-steps-removed-connection to something already up?', here's something!

I was speaking to Popup earlier today, and every time I speak to the man I learn something mindblowingly amazing; And so it happens that there's this song called the Sunscreen Song, which is, in essence, a page of (rather sound) advice on Life. Soundness of logic was never a sexy enough reason to read advice on living Life, but this one's different: first, it has a fascinating history. Second, it was originally most irresistibly titled "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young". Third, the clincher: it's hilarious! Check this out:

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

What are you still doing here?! Oh ok, here's a PhDComics parody. Now go read! :-)

And while we're still wallowing in this mood most sombre, here's the most sensible and sensitive one-line wish I've ever read:

May we have the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Strong O:-)

1 comment:

S said...

Wow, I used to think that really was by Kurt Vonnegut...

And the serenity prayer has its own WP page too :) (That's probably less surprising.)