Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson: May he Rest in Peace

I was surprisingly affected by the King of Pop's passing the other day (usually celebrities pass, like Farrah or Ed McMahon, and I barely bat an eye). Also, I was never a huge fan--I realized I didn't even have any of his MP3's (so like everyone, I went and bought his Essentials album off iTunes). It wasn't until he died that I realized how much I had been rooting for a come back, so that his legacy would not be the tawdry stuff that I was trying hard to not believe. It seems like after his death, that it is indeed his music that he is being remembered for. (a surprised sentiment shared by the chef of Danos, one of my favorite restaurants who carpooled with us randomly yesterday)

I suppose it is because Michael Jackson, more than anyone else, (though Madonna comes close), provided the soundtrack for my childhood, and for that reason alone, I was and and am wishing him well.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Far better joke than those Old MIT t-shirts


I still have that shirt in my closet somewhere.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chance Encounters

(back from Asia, so will return to posting the backlog of posts I have)

A friend of mine related to me a few stories of random encounters with people he had not heard from in years. My response is that this happens so often, I am no longer surprised.

A girl I was in marching band with in high school in new jersey, who I never kept in touch with, I later bumped into on a random vacaction in banff canada, and then years later, she turns up as a student at the orientation picnic in the MBA program I teach in.

A key paper I cite in my dissertation, turns out to be written by one of R-'s classmate in med school, who wrote the paper with a darthmouth econ professor, and two weeks ago, the econ prof shows up to give a talk at Cornell. That econ prof's normal collaborator is the economist I worked with at the White House, who went to the same summer school I did in high school, which we found out since we were both being interviewed by the summer school director in the same week.

Sitting in a random starbucks in the upper west side in new york city, there were limited seats, so I shared a table with a guy who asked to borrow the book review from the sunday nytimes I was reading. He was looking for the review of a book he publishes. turns out he's a book agent for social science books. 3 days later, I am having dinner with a visiting harvard prof back in Ithaca, who is talking about his book agent, who sure enough is the guy I chatted with back at Starbucks.

A friend of mine from college, whom I hadn't seen or talked to since college turned out to live on my street in baltimore.

So what are the odds? I guess physicists call this a Fermi problem.

So let's say you have 4,000 acquaintances that you'd recognize and remember. (My high school had 300 people per class, I'd probably recognize all of them, plus a few hundred from adjacent classes. say 1000 total. then 1000 from college. 1000 from grad school. 1000 from work and otherwise).

Assuming most are yuppies, there are maybe 100,000 students who went to a top college per year. so 1,000,000 people within 5 years of you. so you probably know 0.4% of them. and if you include friends of friends, that's probably lots more. so given that you see say 50 yuppies in any given day, you have a 20% (50 * 0.4%) chance of bumping into a random person on any given day in a new place. Which doesn't sound too far off.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Healthy Eating on a Dollar a Day

I have noted here in the past, that it is a fallacy that healthy food is more expensive than junk food (it seems that way because rich people like healthy foods and shop in expensive stores, while poor people like junk food and shop in cheap stores; but there is no particular reason why healthy food has to be expensive, see Chinatown for loads of cheap produce).

I have also noted that it is not that hard to feed yourself well on $3 a day. In response to all of these politicians looking like idiots by living for a week on the money people get for food stamps ($21 a week) and claiming it is impossible and that it leads to weakness and starvation, so in response I made up a shopping list of a variety of meals that aren't that far from what I normally eat for $21 a week.

So nice to know that I'm not alone. In fact this woman claims to be able to do it on $1 a day which impressed me.

But also just emphasized for me again that hunger in America is largely by choice (of course there are exceptions). This American Life story about a couple homeless guys emphatically makes that point that there is so much food available for the homeless that it is impossible to go hungry unless you choose to. As well as this photo I saw in the NY Times a while back, about people who have to skip meals to feed their children. The illustrating photo was a woman who claims she regularly skips dinner so her kids can eat. The thing was, that the woman in the photo was huge; she must have weighed at least 300 pounds.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Humans Can Multi-task!

Lifestyle gurus these days love talking about how multi-tasking is a myth, that people can't multi-task, but instead, just switch their attention rapidly between different tasks. And therefore we should do only one thing at a time.

Idiots.

That is multi-tasking. At least that's how computers do multi-tasking. (ok, there are exceptions, especially as computers take advantage of multiple processors) but that is by and large how all personal computers have handled multi-tasking. (that was one of the first lessons I learned about computers back when we were first upgrading from DOS to Windows 3.0... not even 3.1).

And if that kind of multi-tasking has worked for computers, I don't see why that's an argument that humans can't do the same.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A very dumb idea: make b-school like law/med school

The idea that we should "professionalize" business school so that it is more like med school or law school has been making the rounds recently (e.g. Time, NY Times, NPR, etc.). Whereas a true profession like law or medicine has a code of ethics designed to serve the greater good, business school is different because no such code exist.

Very large red alarms goes off for the economist in me at this idea. Because whereas others see professions as something noble, the economist sees a cartel. The standard view of professional societies (stemming from the medieval guilds) is that by regulating who can enter the market, they create a cartel that keep prices high by keeping people out. As Time noted, professionalization implies "a professional exam, a licensing board and exposure to malpractice," as institutions quickly become cooped by government. Economically, these institutions use government's coercive power to maintain their high prices. Some of the largest sources of dead weight loss and inefficiences in the economy are associated with the legal and medical industries.

That said, I am sympathetic to the benefits of monopolies. Like a benevolent dictator, a benevolent monopoly can often do the right thing, where a competitive market cannot (see Google for example). So maybe the lawyer and the medical cartel is justified, but the idea of professionalizing business so that you would need government approval to run any company is more than a little scary.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trek Reviewlet

Saw it the other night. Sort of had to with a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. I normally don't like movies with that time travel premise (perhaps the only exceptions are Harry Potter and 12 Monkeys) but aside from that I enjoyed it. It was a satisfying experience though the plot had much of the same campiness as the original show. The casting was pretty spot on. They are indeed trying to create a new franchise though it that might be weird having a series of movies where the actors are all doing impressions of the previous crew. This one was fine as an homage and I enjoyed the plentiful references, but not sure if they can do it again. Good special effects which is a first for star trek. Still lame a$$ fight choreography. Sulu's (played by Harold sans Kumar) allusion to fencing (see Naked Time from the original series) could have been awesome but was poorly executed.

An easily likable (hence the 98% rotten tomatoes score) but not a great movie.

Final Grade: B

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