Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My daughter Hannah on the complexity of Iran

I wouldn't push the proud father thing if I didn't think she was good.

Green: Iranian film creatively bends censorship rules - Forum - The Daily Northwestern - Northwestern University#.Tyhotk9I4rw

Good news and bad news on race and housing

Ed Glaeser and Jake Vigdor find that all-white neighborhoods are a thing of the past.  They find:

  • The most standard segregation measure shows that american cities are now more integrated than they’ve been since 1910. Segregation rose dramatically with black migration to cities in the mid-twentieth century. On average, this rise has been entirely erased by integration since the 1960s.
  • All-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct. A half-century ago, one-fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents. Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little black population.
  • Gentrification and immigration have made a dent in segregation. While these phenomena are clearly important in some areas, the rise of black suburbanization explains much more of the decline in segregation.
  • Ghetto neighborhoods persist, but most are in decline. For every diversifying ghetto neighborhood, many more house a dwindling population of black residents.
That said, Andy Reschovsky sends me to the most recent US Census Homeownership and Vacancy Report, which shows the ration of black to white ownership rates fell from .643 in 2006 to .617 in 2011; for hispanics, the fall was from .651 to .632.

Kitchens on the Brain...

I'm working on a few kitchen projects at the moment and for the past couple of months, I've been collecting images.  One of the easiest places (besides a physical binder) to collect images is pinterest.com.  One of the kitchens we're working on is for our clients who absolutely love to cook and they're drawn to simple, functional beauty that feels timeless & as if it's always been there with a tad of a European edge. 


{House Beautiful,,,  I looooove these leather chairs!!!}}

And not that we're doing garden mazes in the kitchen, but although a bit more formal than what we're going for, I want to bring a little bit of that traditional garden- conservatory-vibe into the house...  But in a more relaxed way...

{image via rkw.blogspot.com}

We're looking at going with a beautiful French range by LaCanche:

{Kitchen by Mary Evelyn McKee via elementsofstyle.com}

...Except in stainless steel w/ brass accents:

They needs lots of space in the sink for washing large pots & pans & so we're considering a deep, wide farmhouse sink.  I love this laundry style sink:

{via moderncountrystyle.blogspot.com via Brooke Giannetti}

I haven't come across any 1 image that perfectly embodies the feeling we're after but Ina Garten's home is definitely in the mix:


{One of my favorite houses EVER, featured in House Beautiful}

...We just want it to be a teensy bit less "fresh" and a little more aged.  The house is also not a rustic one & so we really don't feel that the beams would be appropriate, although we love them.   

We're using a mix of finishes in the kitchen, many of them unlaquered brass and if you haven't already read this post last week by Brooke Giannetti about mixing metals in the kitchen, then you need to hop over to Velvet & Linen to read it.  Along with Ina & a few others, the Giannetti's aesthetic has also played a  big part in this particular kitchen design.  When I first met with my client & she showed me inspiration images, so many of them reminded me of Brooke & Steve's Patina Style and when I mentioned them, my client said she was an admirer.



{countryliving.com via Brooke on pinterest}

We're striving for the perfect mix of old & new, beauty & practicality.

{An old wooden tabletop...  I can't remember the source, but how amazing is this timeworn finish?!!}

I also love the baker's racks that Darryl Carter uses in many of his projects.  They're so gorgeous & functional:

We're planning on incorporating a pair flanking the range hood.

We're looking at doing plaster one similar to this (below) but with more of a curve to the front and back:

{HGTV.com by Jane Ellison}

Anyway, as we make more progress, I'll be sure to share updates. 
Because it takes a lot of this....


{image from investorspot.com}

and this...

{kitcheninteriordesign.net}

before you get to this...


{image from wonderingfair.com}


xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Paleo Diet Article in Sound Consumer

I recently wrote an article for my local natural foods grocery store, PCC, about the "Paleolithic" diet.  You can read it online here.  I explain the basic rationale for Paleo diets, some of the scientific support behind it, and how it can be helpful for people with certain health problems.  I focused in particular on the research of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg at the University of Lund, who has studied non-industrial populations using modern medical techniques and also conducted clinical diet trials using the Paleo diet.
Read more »

Friday, January 27, 2012

Insulin and Obesity: Another Nail in the Coffin

There are several versions of the insulin hypothesis of obesity, but the versions that are most visible to the public generally state that elevated circulating insulin (whether acute or chronic) increases body fatness.  Some versions invoke insulin's effects on fat tissue, others its effects in the brain.  This idea has been used to explain why low-carbohydrate and low-glycemic-index diets can lead to weight loss (although frankly, glycemic index per se doesn't seem to have much if any impact on body weight in controlled trials). 

I have explained in various posts why this idea does not appear to be correct (1, 2, 3), and why, after extensive research, the insulin hypothesis of obesity lost steam by the late 1980s.  However, I recently came across two experiments that tested the hypothesis as directly as it can be tested-- by chronically increasing circulating insulin in animals and measuring food intake and body weight and/or body fatness.  If the hypothesis is correct, these animals should gain fat, and perhaps eat more as well. 

Read more »

Bits of Blue

Happy Friday!!  Maybe it's the unusually warm weather or that it's one of my favorite colors, but I've been drawn to touches of blue lately.  We just presented a plan to a client with a blue painted buffet in a dining room & here are a couple images that I looked at.

I love what the shot of blue does in this neutral dining room: 

{I think the homeowners are the founders of Wisteria}

I've had this image for a while (and have posted it more than once) but I looooove this Gustavian piece:

{The mix of the blue with the old door is perfection.  I can't remember the source for the image- sorry!!}

And finally (yeah, it's Friday, this is a short one ;) this past summer I found this cool old blue trunk at an atntique store and put it in my dad's almost-finished lake house dining room:

{It's great for last-minute mess stashing..  Curtains are in my Live Paisley in Antique Beige and Boys are by Lauren & David Liess ;}

Anyway, I'm off for the day but have a great weekend!!  It's SO beautiful & warm here today that I can't believe it's January!!!


xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Back to the Drawing Board Part 2



Eyes On The Prize
(Indian Ink on A3 Bristol Board)

Its been a while since I've done any line work in ink so I thought I'd try out a new composition I've been playing with based on board track racing. The idea was to get a dynamic view on a steep board track, with elements of story telling using the interaction between the riders.

Some American tracks had almost wall of death type inclines on circular tracks.

St Louis Board Track
Sept. 6, 1914, by St. Louis photographer A. F. Eike
Newark Board Track



The early part of my week was spent playing about with the mono print process and combining the prints with loose ink sketches. I like the way that the mono print technique abstracts the image producing textures that wouldn't normally be made with brushes or pens.

Board track Racer 1
(A5 Monoprint on Ink Sketch)

Board track Racer 2
(A5 Monoprint on Ink Sketch)
Board track Racer 3
(A5 Monoprint on Ink Sketch)

Designer Showhouses- Do or Don't?

One of my favorite things to do is working on textile designs. I always have a list of designs in my head that I want to do, but sitting down & finding the time to sit down & draw them is another story. Sometimes it just takes some good motivation. The DC Design House has started up again this year & so I've been busy drawing. I've seen the new house - along with all of the other interested designers in the DC area- and have been working on a design to submit for a space. (First everyone sees the house & then we have a couple of weeks to create a design, which is then submitted for review by the Design Committee. )

I've gotten a few emails & phone calls lately from designers asking if I thought it was "worth it" to do the Design House last year. And the answer is, I'm submitting a design again, so YES definitely :)

{My room from last year.. And just to warn you, something is wrong with blgoger and it won't let me upload any other pics so this is a pictureless post from here on out. sorry!!}

I have to say though... it's really up to each individual designer to decide if it's "worth it" for herself or himself.

First of all, Children's Hospital is an amazing cause & each year, I try to do something special to help people through our design work, so I think that's an important "pro" for doing any charity design showhouse.
Being involved in the Showhouse makes you feel like you're part of this big team & it's a ton of fun. I can't say it in any other way other than it just makes you feel special. (It kind of reminds me of doing plays in gradeschool :) People are generally really supportive of one another and in our showhouse, we had a great PR person (Sherry Moeller) who sent so much press everyone's way, so that was amazing. You get to work alongside amazing designers and see all these beautiful spaces happen up-close. It's really nice & exciting to be around so many people in the industry.
One thing that has to be taken into consideration is the cost of doing a room in a showhouse. Both time/ opprtunity costs & money. A showhouse is different from other projects in that you are working around a lot of other people and there are certain times when you have to get things done. The schedule is very compressed & there's a lot of pressure to get things finished much quicker than you would in an ordinary project. (For example, if you're doing COM upholstery, a typical lead time for a sofa could be 8-10 weeks or even more depending upon your fabrics & availability. Well, with the compressed showhouse timeline, you might only have 7 or so weeks to get everything in. Last year I was on pins & needles waiting for all pf my pieces to come in on time.)

As far as money goes- things start adding up. I tried to get as many donations & loans as I could. (I am forever grateful to companies like Peter Dunham Textiles & Michael Smith, and Stark Carpets and lots of others who donated their goods to make our room happen. And The team of people I work with was also right there for me, donating labor & time, which I never could have afforded on my own.) But expenses still add up & there lots of things you just have to purchase (sometimes custom ones for example) and you do end up spending quite a bit of money.

But I think being in a Showhouse really gives you the chance to show others that you're there. It puts you in a place to get noticed & to help make a name for yourself, and as anyone in our business knows, that's what keeps your business going.

Another question I get a lot is- "Did you get clients from the Showhouse?" ... My answer is a hazy one. We had lots of inquiries into our services, but not many that panned out into full projects.

We received lots of inquiries for consultations but unfortunately, due to our workload & staffing, we're only able to take on full-service projects. The one project we did take on that was related to the Design House was with a client whom a previous client had already referred to us & who was already considering working with us before the Showhouse. I think seeing the space we created in person convinced her & her husband that we were "right" for them. I would say if you're doing a showhouse because you expect to directly get clients from it, then you might be disappointed. Go into it thinking you won't get any clients & if you do, that's a great perk, but don't count on it for your finances.

Other people have asked about getting Showhouse rooms published in shelter magazines. It's another thing I would say to not go in expecting. Typically, certain magazines will shoot a showhouse for an upcoming issue. Home & Design Magazine (our local Design Magazine) used photos of every room of the Showhouse (I think) last year & so that was great for everyone. And Traditional Home also typically shoots the DC Design House, so of course everyone is dying for their room to get chosen. It seems like the more public/ larger spaces are typically shot for this like the living rooms, master, etc. but you never know- it coule be you! Last year, we were lucky enough to have our room photographed for an up-coming Better Homes & Gardens Magazine issue (coming out in April!! :) and I'm so excited about the article because it really focuses on the design decisions made & how to go about creating a room with that type of feeling.

And another thing I would think anyone submitting a design for a showhouse agonizes over (I know I do) is which room to pick to submit a design for.  When big, talented & established designers do showhouses, I would think they pretty much get the spaces they want to do.  When you're new to the industry & haven't yet quite made a name for yourself, deciding on a room can be really worrisome.  Last year I chose a smaller bedroom space upstairs for my design.  I didn't get the bedroom I submitted a design for & was moved right next door to a very similar bedroom so I could keep my general design.  I felt sooooo lucky.  I loved my space and was happy with my decision to start small.  ...  Now what do you do if you decide you want a more prominent space?  (Spaces on the first floor of showhouses are really desirable and I think they are generally harder to get.)  I honestly don't have a good answer here, as this is the big question going through my head right now.  Part of me says, "play it safe.  If you're newer or have never been involved with a showhouse before, just choose a space you think you might actually have a shot at and play it safe."  The other part of me says, "Go for it.  What do you have to lose? Be true to yourself and if you think you can create an amazing design for a space, then do it, regardless of who you are."   No guts, no glory, right?  (But that's not exactly true in a showhouse ;) ;)  If you aim too high, you could just miss it altogether or you could be rewarded.  You never know.   

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I'm sure other people have other ones though, so if you've participated in a Showhouse before & have any advice, I think everyone (me included!) would love to hear it.

One last thing-  Never let fear of rejection keep you from making the Showhouse decision.  Don't even let it weigh in.  Rejection is scary and kind of makes me sick, but I think it's something we all experience & know we (eventually ;)  get over.  I was sooooo nervous last year & I'm surprised to see I'm even more nervous submitting a design this year, and that rejection fear is very real for me, but I'm fighting it because the risk is worth it. 


xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Markets -- increasingly complex dynamics over the past decade

Didier Sornette is among the most creative scientists I know, and always seems to come up with an approach to problems that is more or less orthogonal to what anyone has done before. In a paper just out (as a preprint), he and Vladimir Filimonov offer a really novel analysis on the old question about whether market movements are caused by A. external influences such as news (exogenous causes) or B. influences internal to the market itself such as emotions, avalanches of belief and opinion, etc. (endogenous causes). This matter, of course, touches directly on the infamous efficient markets hypothesis, which insists on interpretation A (all A, no B).

I've written before (here and here, for example) about various studies trying to match up news feeds with big market moves to see if the latter can be explained by the former. Generally, the evidence suggests no, implying some mixture of A and B. Sornette and Filimonov now take a very different approach, which is an attempt to use mathematics to directly measure how much of the dynamics of a time series can be attributed to endogenous, internal causes. The mathematical technique is itself interesting. If it can be trusted, then the results suggest that markets in the past decade have become much more strongly driven by internal, endogenous dynamics than they were before. As the authors point out, this could well reflect the explosion of algorithmic trading, as computers interact with one another in lots of complex feedback loops.

The authors envision their technique as a device for measuring the amount of "reflexivity" in the market, referring to the term used by George Soros to describe how human perceptions and misperceptions interact in the market to drive changes. This is a fascinating idea if it can be done. Here's how it works. Sornette and Filiminov model price time series as being generated by a statistical "point process" -- the idea is to generate price dynamics by modelling the arrival of actual buy and sell orders in the market. The simplest way to do this is to use a Poisson process, with equal probability at all times. This gives a random time series of price movements, but an unrealistic one that lacks the most interesting properties of real markets -- fat tails in the distribution of returns, and long term memory in the volatility (and also volume fluctuations). To get realistic time series, it's possible to let the arrival of buy and sell orders have strong correlations in time, as they in fact do in real markets. This technique is referred to as a "self-excited Hawkes model."

Another way to put this is as follows. In an ordinary Poisson process, the average number of events striking in an interval dt (say, 1 second) is a constant, λ. In the richer process with correlations, this will now be a function of time λ(t). The key to the analysis here is expressing this quantity (essentially, the rate of buy and sell orders hitting to book around time t) as the sum of two very different processes -- 1. a background contribution due to external events such as news, which drive the market, and 2. a feedback contribution coming from the tendency for orders now to have consequences, leading to further orders in the future. The result is eq.(1) of the paper:
Here the first term on the right is the background (which drives the exogenous dynamics) and the second term is the feedback, with h being some function that reflects the likelihood that an event at time ti generates another one at time t later. The first term creates a steady stream of events, the second one creates events which create events which create events, a branching stream of further consequences.


Now, the task of fitting time series generated by such processes to real financial data is more involved and relies on some standard maximum likelihood techniques. The authors also assume for simplicity that the function h has an exponential form (events tend to cause others soon after, and less so with increasing time). The key parameter emerging out of such fits is n, which can be interpreted as the fraction of events of endogenous origin, or in effect, the fraction of market activity due to internal dynamics. The statistical fit also estimates μ, this being the background level of exogenous shocks, which also rises and falls with time. Sornette and Filimonov use data on E-mini futures on a second by second basis over about 12 years to run the analysis, the key results of which come out in the figure below.


The four parts going downward show volume and price, and then the estimated background and the fraction of events caused by internal dynamics, n. The most interesting feature is the general rise in n over the decade showing an increasing influence of internal dynamics, or events which causes further events through internal market mechanisms. In contrast, the background of exogenous shocks -- information driven dynamics -- remains more constant (except with a spike around the time of the Lehman Bros collapse). From this the authors offer a few comments:
The first important observation is that, since 2002, n has been consistently above 0.6 and, since 2007, between 0.7 and 0.8 with spikes at 0.9. These values translate directly into the conclusion that, since 2007, more than 70% of the price moves are endogenous in nature, i.e., are not due to exogenous news but result from positive feedbacks from past price moves. The second remarkable fact is the existence of four market regimes over the period 1998-2010:
(i) In the period from Q1-1998 to Q2-2000, the final run-up of the dotcom bubble is associated with a stationary branching ratio n fluctuation around 0.3.
(ii) From Q3-2000 to Q3-2002, n increases from 0.3 to 0.6. This regime corresponds to the succession of rallies and panics that characterized the aftermath of the burst of the dot-com bubble and an economic recession.
(iii) From Q4-2002 to Q4-2006, one can observe a slow increase of n from 0.6 to 0.7. This period corresponds to the “glorious years” of the twin real-estate bubble, financial product CDO and CDS bubbles, stock market bubble and commodity bubbles.
(iv) After Q1-2007 the branching ratio stabilized between 0.7 and 0.8 corresponding to the start of the problems of the subprime financial crisis (first alert in Feb. 2007), whose aftershocks are still resonating at the time of writing.
It should be emphasized that the analysis here is only sensitive to endogenous dynamics over timescales of only around 10 minutes or less. This stems from some assumptions necessary to deal with the highly non-stationary character of the data, as trading volume has exploded over the decade. Hence, the lower values of n earlier in the decade could reflect the failure of this analysis to detect important endogenous feedbacks operating on longer timescales (in the burst of the dot-com bubble, for example).


Now for what is perhaps the most fascinating thing coming out of this paper -- the idea that this analysis may be able to distinguish big markets movements caused by real news or other fundamental changes from those more akin to bubbles and caused purely by human behaviour (panics and the like) or algorithmic feedbacks. Sornette and Filimonov looked at two specific events, on 27 April and 6 May 2010, where markets moved suddenly and in a dramatic way. The first was caused by S&P downgrading Greece's debt rating, the second is, of course, the Flash Crash. The same analysis using their method shows strikingly different results for these two events:

 
The "branching ratio" here is just the n we've been talking about -- the fraction of market dynamics caused by internal dynamics. The most significant finding is that while the first event of 27 April showed absolutely no change in this value, expected given the apparently clear origin of this event in external information, the 6 May Flash Crash shows a sudden spike in the internal dynamics. Hence, based on this example, it appears that this parameter n acts like a flag, identifying events caused by powerful internal feedbacks. As the authors put it,
The top four panels of Fig. 3 show that the two extreme events of April 27 and May 6, 2010 have similar price drops and volume of transactions. In particular, we find that the volume was multiplied by 4.7 for April 27, 2010 and by 5.3 times for May 6, 2010 in comparison with the 95% quantile of the previous days’ volume. The main difference lies in the trading rates and in the branching ratio. Indeed, the event of April 27, 2010 can be classified according to our calibration of the Hawkes model as a pure exogenous event, since the branching ratio n (fig. 3D1) does not exhibit any statistically significant change compared with previous and later periods. In contrast, for the May 6, 2010 flash crash, one can observe a statistically significant increase of the level of endogeneity n (fig. 3D2). At the peak, n reaches 95% from a previous average level of 72%, which means that, at the peak (14:45 EST), more than 95% of the trading was due to endogenous triggering effects rather than genuine news.
Do you believe it? It sounds plausible to me. I guess the thing that would be good to see is some thorough tests of the method applied to time series for which we know the origin of the dynamics. That is, take something like a chaotic oscillator and drive it with some external noise with a controllable level and see if this method generally gives reliable results in teasing out how much of what happens is driven by the noise, and how much by the internal dynamics. Perhaps this has already been done in some of the papers describing the development of the self-excited Hawkes model. I'll try to check on this.


In any event, I think this is certainly a provocative and interesting new approach to this old question of internal vs external dynamics in markets. And I actually don't find the result surprising at all that n has increased markedly over the past decade. This is precisely what one would expect as trading moves over to algorithms that react to what other algorithms do on a sub second basis.