Archive for November, 2008

Banker without Bed

New mattress arrived. It should be much better for my back than my previous one, the foldaway type I got for free from my landlord and is too soft for me. Given my current back condition, I followed my sister’s advice and bought a better mattress. When I told my boss about the new mattress, his response was “great, since you can sleep better now, you can cut your sleep time in half and work longer hours.” In which I replied, “I might not be able to wake up in the morning anymore.”

Related update. A friend was rather shocked that I’m sleeping on the floor (still am) and asked me to
use some of my “banker” incomes to get a proper bed. I don’t mind sleeping on the floor and was used to it during my university study. Besides being employed full time, my current lifestyle is pretty much the same as when I was a student. And bankers nowadays don’t connote prestige or exotic pay anymore. Those who iron five shirts on a weekend are viewed as optimistic.

PS: Just tested my new mattress and it feels like a real bed  ^__^


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Assorted links

1. Great debate on whether America is failing at happiness. Will is awesome, and Tyler is good as usual. Needless to say all the debaters are extremely smart. I came across it after watching this year’s debate on CSR.  Here‘s a podcast on happiness, behavioral economics, and evolutionary psychology by Epstein.2. A Profile on Justin Wolfers, husband of Betsey Stevenson who is in the happiness debate above. Excerpt:

“Economics is merely a lens through which we can view the world around us,” Wolfers says. “Some of my work interfaces with psychology, some political science, some criminology, some sociology. We’re social scientists trying to understand the world.”

The study drew national media attention. The NBA issued a stern denial, Charles Barkley called the authors “jackasses,” and Wolfers notes that it marked “the first time I’ve ever had a paper criticized by Kobe Bryant.”

“Economists think there’s truth and all you have to do is be honest and you’ll discover it,” he says. “It means we all wake up every day excited to go discover something.”

3. Talking about NBA, here‘s an article on Kevin Garnett and the trend of hiring professional number cruncher to improve performances. I haven’t been following NBA for a while, but will probably get around to watch last season’s finals.

4. From last week’s Economist: Maldives, facing the prospect of homelessness due to rising sea levels, is looking to buy a new homeland. The article moves on to interesting implications (assuming places are commercialized) that Israelis can buy a place for Palestinians, China can buy Malaysia instead of pursuing Taiwan, and Europe can swap places among themselves. If only things work that well at the national level…

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Dinner with Bryan

I’d two dinners with Bryan Caplan, a professor at GMU, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter, and co-blogger at EconLog, We discussed lots of topics, ranging from why people should have more kids (theme of his upcoming book) to different interests and motivations between man and woman. We also talked about graphic novels, politics, and cultural influences, and academia life. I enjoyed the conversation, though I’m less sure about Bryan as he is way smarter than I’m and has a group of equally smart lunch friends back at GMU. The second dinner (which I initiated), was potentially a proxy to find out how satisfying he finds conversing with me. Since he met me for the second time, I infer that I didn’t bored him too much (or he is just too kind).

Bryan is the sort of people I’d enjoy being around. Two of my undergraduate professors, and many of the GMU bloggers, share similar traits as well. These people have wide range of interests, read a lot, and very open-minded. They also tend to be independent, creative and have a sense of humor (and interestingly most follow the classical liberal tradition). Money is generally not too important to them. As a result these people are generally happy and know how to enjoy life. Whether I do a PhD or not, one of my goals in life is to be like these people.

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The house elf is rebelling against its master. When will peace arrives?

Meaning: My body is signaling to me that it is not feeling well and I should take better care of it. Roger.

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饮食男女(Eat Drink Man Woman) by Ang Lee (1994) –
Even though I might find a lot of Chinese traditions and relationship norms ridiculous, I still feel nostalgic towards some of them. I’m like a rebellious child who admires the Western philosophy and science and the Japanese beauty and idealism and plays down the Chinese ones. But as I grow older, I begin to appreciate more of the Chinese traditions and to like the old Chinese songs and movies. This reminds me of what 吳念真 (Nien-Jen Wu) said in Yiyi: when he was young, he hated the music his father always plays, but when he felt in love at 15, suddenly everything meant something to him. Thank Angi for recommending this movie to me.

Waterboys (2001) by Yaguchi Shinobu –

Similar to Swing girls, it’s a story about teenagers overcoming obstacles to find passion and satisfaction in their life. In here, passion is not even about finding what you love to do or pursuing your dreams, but just putting efforts into something and doing it well. I like the director’s style and enjoy watching his movies regardless of the unrealistic content. Another Japanese director to add to my watch list, along with Miyazaki Hayao, Shinkai Makoto, and Shunji Iwai.

Casablanca (1942) –

I decided to watch this movie again after watching Sleepless in Seattle (1993). I still like it a lot and enjoy the story, characters, and conversations. An all time classics.

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Do People Change

I was discussing this with a friend the other day and a few days later saw Ben’s post on exactly the same topic. I agree with most of his views, perhaps because we share similar ideology (1). But I think it’s difficult to disentangle between what’s inherited versus conscious change in personality. It’s likely that people with certain traits are more likely and capable of changing or improving themselves than the others. I agree with my ‘particular’ friend that the essence of a person is hard to change. Not that it’s impossible, but the cognitive dissonance and the discomfort from deviating from our inherited tendency are generally large enough to counter our desire and determination to change. I think few people are willing to make the sacrifice for big change in their personality and identity. So I might have a more pessimistic view about change: I think it’s possible to improve and change oneself, but it’s much more probable for certain type of people.

(1) I follow the classical liberal (or modern libertarian) tradition of thoughts (J S Mill, Adam Smith, David Hume, F A Hayek, etc.) and am fascinated by evolutionary psychology. I also read Steven Pinker’s books. I like The Blank Slate a lot, How the Mind Works is also good but has less impact on me.

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This is a new book by Malcolm Gladwell on highly successful people (outliers). Although I didn’t find his earlier book, The Tipping Point, particularly insightful, I plan to read this book as it’s on a topic that I think about a lot. Gladwell’s descriptions of the book also attract me: “This is very specifically not a self-help book,” Gladwell says. “It’s a book that’s very much about collective and social organized change. I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be. And the appropriate place to provide opportunities is at the world level, not the individual level.” So another book to my amazon cart for my christmas indulgence.
Here’s a profile on Malcolm Gladwell and his latest book. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Or take the case of Bill Gates. Gladwell cites a body of research finding that the “magic number for true expertise” is 10,000 hours of practice. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Gladwell writes. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Gladwell shows how Gates accumulated his 10,000 hours while in middle and high school in Seattle thanks to a series of nine incredibly fortunate opportunities—ranging from the fact that his private school had a computer club with access to (and money for) a sophisticated computer, to his childhood home’s proximity to the University of Washington, where he had access to an even more sophisticated computer. “By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own computer software company,” Gladwell writes, “he’d been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past 10,000 hours.” Yes, Gates is obviously brilliant, Gladwell concludes, but without the lucky breaks he had as a kid, he never could have had the opportunity to fulfill the true potential of that brilliance. How many similarly brilliant people never get that opportunity?

And then there are the math geniuses who, as anyone can’t help noticing, are disproportionately Asian. Citing the work of an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Gladwell attributes this phenomenon not to some innate mathematical ability that Asians possess but to the fact that children in Asian countries are willing to work longer and harder than their Western counterparts. That willingness, Gladwell continues, is due to a cultural legacy of hard work that stems from the cultivation of rice. Turning to a historian who studies ancient Chinese peasant proverbs, Gladwell marvels at what Chinese rice farmers used to tell one another: “No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.” Contrast that legacy with the one derived from Western agriculture—which holds that some fields be left fallow rather than be cultivated 360 days a year and which, by extension, led to the creation of an education system that allowed students to be left fallow for periods, like summer vacation. For American students from wealthy homes, summer vacation isn’t a problem; but, citing the research of a Johns Hopkins sociologist, Gladwell shows that it’s a profound handicap for students from poor homes, who actually outlearn their rich counterparts during the school year but then fall behind them when school lets out. “For its poorest students, America doesn’t have a school problem,” Gladwell concludes. “It has a summer-vacation problem.” So how to close the gap between rich and poor students? Get rid of summer vacation in inner-city schools.

For now, I got to finish my few left over books before my christmas gift arrive.

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