Monday, February 18, 2008

Somebody should be fired...

for the terrible uniform designs for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game.

Check out these two pictures: 1 and 2.

Not bad, eh? (Sorry, don't want to get in trouble for posting the pictures here due to property rights and whatnot.)

Now check out this one.

What? There were three teams? No, in fact, the uniforms were as follows.
West: white front/gold back
East: blue front/(whitish) silver back

So, depending on the direction the players were turned, there appeared to be between one and three teams on the floor at any given time. I often had trouble distinguishing between the teams and I was watching on a 55 inch HDTV. (Look at the last picture again, zoom out a few times, and you'll see what I mean.)

Besides that, the All-Star Weekend shows were pretty great. TNT's team of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson are the most entertaining in any sport. Largely due to Dwight Howard, the slam dunk contest was the best since 2000 (which featured Vince Carter). The dunk people are talking about most starts at 2:40.

It was almost as good as last year's All-Star Danceoff.

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Next Paper Must Have a Food Reference

From Amazon's Current 10 Best Sellers:

2. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search For ...
5. Plum Lucky
6. Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers
7. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
8. Eat This Not That: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps...
9. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission To Promote Peace...One School at a Time

Okay, three of these aren't about food/weight but their use of the topic in the title is also telling. The top 25 also includes The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Skinny Bitch, and four additional weight loss books.

Also, eight of the top ten have a subtitle. I'll have to do that too.

Monday, January 7, 2008

My Experience Doing Research: A Response

Over at The Ambrosine Critique, I commented that I think a "project-oriented" approach is generally better than a "read-for-ideas" approach to getting going on dissertation research, even if the projects don't seem that great at first. I'd say "always be producing something" is a good motto--one that works for me, anyways. This means working on projects.

My comment generated a slew of questions about my experience and approach to doing research. I think all of these types of questions are important things to discuss with an adviser who I'm sure would have much better experience and advice than myself. Nevertheless, below is my response to the questions posed. Take them with a grain of salt; different strategies apply to different people; and the like.

What is the scope of “a project”? A vague idea? A particular hypothesis? A particular regression or data set?

I think of "a project" as a viable plan of action. As an applied micro researcher, I think this means an identification strategy and a potential data set.

How many projects do you have going at any one time?

I have generally tried to focus heavily on one or two at a time. Any more and I would be worried about making good progress on any of them. However, when there's a lull in my main project(s) because I'm waiting for feedback from my advisers, because I've hit a roadblock, or because I'm frustrated and need a break from it, I'll sometimes spend a day or half-day on another project that has been on the backburner.

How long before moving on to the next project?

Whenever the next project has a higher benefit than the opportunity cost :) Seriously, though, it depends. If a current project is "good enough" then I think you keep at it until it's done. The expected lifespan of a paper can be thought of like it is for people. A "good enough" paper in progress has a *much* higher probability of surviving to completion than a "good enough" paper that has yet to be born. This is another argument for getting started on projects even if you're not in love with the idea--if it survives after putting some work into it, it turns into a good project. However, sometimes you hit a dead end and sometimes substantially better paper ideas come along. My advisers have been a great resource for helping me prioritize research projects--they’re in a better position to judge what is viable/new/important/etc.

Have you ever given up on a project, or do they just become “on-hold” for a long time?

Yes and yes. When just starting to get serious about research, I replicated one of my favorite papers with the hope that some research ideas would jump out at me; I replicated it, no "good enough" ideas came, and I moved on. I also spent a good deal of time looking for betting market inefficiencies without finding anything too interesting--okay, that maybe that one was more for pleasure anyways. I've also started a couple of projects that I've since put on hold that I wouldn't mind coming back to at some point.

To what extent do you work on a research program? i.e. how related are your projects; do they each tell a small part of a bigger story? How important do you think this aspect is for the job market?

(The answer here will probably be sub-discipline specific… I suspect there’s more of a premium in public/labor/freakonomics to flex your technical muscles. But your ideas would form a nice baseline.)

At first, I don't think it's worth thinking about a "research program" at all. You only *really* need one good paper anyways. However, it's definitely good to have a well defined area of research when you go on the job market. With that said, one project often leads to other related projects so a cohesive dissertation can develop from a single idea. So I think this should be considered when deciding how to prioritize subsequent projects only after the first one has "taken off."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hillary Clinton: Master of the Handshake

During the debates, I had fun trying to pick out the body language signals that I recently read about.

Hillary Clinton's handshake strategy was particularly interesting. First, recall that when someone turns their hand so it is above the other persons hand (a palm-down handshake), it's a signal of dominance. Clinton demonstrated her dominance through her handshake strategy in two respects.

First came when all of the candidates were brought on stage together between debates. The Democrats entered the stage from the right. This means that when shaking hands with the Republican candidates, their hand would be covered up and the Republicans would appear dominant. Clinton, however, smartly walked across the stage and started shaking hands from the other side.

Second came after the debate ended and she shook hands with Obama and Edwards who she sparred with throughout the night. It was subtle but, at the same time, clear as day. When shaking hands with them, both had their hands vertically. I'm sure Edwards and Obama know better than to get palm-down handshaked. However, just as the handshake came to an end and they were releasing their grips, bam! She turns her wrists to establish dominance and then lets go. Sneaky.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Body Language Tips

Here's my list of tips from The Definitive Book of Body Language that I thought were good enough to write down for later review (with the most interesting and/or useful bolded):

  1. When speaking, use open palms, the "steeple," and thumb displays to show openness and confidence.
  2. Mirror the other person’s body language to gain rapport.
  3. Handshakes: make sure both shakers' hands are vertical and apply the same pressure.
  4. Use someone's name twice immediately after meeting them.
  5. The eyes are the key to a real smile as opposed to a fake smile.
  6. Tight-lipped smile signals a withheld opinion or attitude; the drop-jaw smile (often used by Bill Clinton) signals playfulness.
  7. Smiling is a submission signal--sometimes desirable and sometimes not.
  8. Generally, keep your hands and arms at your side. Crossing your body or touching yourself signals negative attitudes and/or nervousness.
  9. Same with legs and feet.
  10. Thumb displays signal confidence/superiority/aggressiveness.
  11. When someone is making a decision, they often stroke their chin. Their body language immediately following a chin stroke signals their choice.
  12. On where to direct your eyes. For casual social conversation, the triangle made by the eyes and mouth. For intimate/romantic conversation, the triangle from the two eyes to the floor. To be intimidating, the triangle between the middle of the forehead and the eyes.
  13. A persons lead foot points in the direction they want to go. This can signal someone wants to leave, romantic interest, etc.
  14. Speak at the same speed as, or slower than, the person you are speaking with. On a related note, nodding is good but fast nodding can signal that you want someone to finish.
  15. A head tilts signal submission. Head down signals disapproval.
  16. Women, masters of communication, have too many attraction signals to list here. Men, on the other hand, use the regular confidence displays as well as accentuating their crotch.
  17. Neat tip for single guys who want to know if a girl is interested. Put lint on your shoulder or wear your tie to one side and see if she fixes it for you.
  18. Perceived height matters. But actions can be taken to increase perceived height.
  19. Seating arrangements can greatly influence the feel and direction of a discussion. Most of this stuff is intuitive.
  20. Don’t gesture too much. It signals low status.
  21. When you notice someone displaying hostile/bored/undesirable body language, do something about it and their attitude might change! Their arms are crossed? Ask them to hold something. They're propping their head up with their hand? Ask them a question to get their attention. Other topics include handshaking, real smiling versus fake smiling, and other neat stuff. A very quick and easy read.

My only complaints with the book was that it tried a bit too hard to be funny and that references were rarely provided within the text. However, it contained a ton of useful information and was a fun and quick read.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bklog #5

Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This book was great for highlighting counter-intuitive phenomena. For example, humans are incapable of generating a random sequence of coin-flip outcomes. We alternate between heads and tails way too often whereas, probabilistically, we should sometimes observe long streaks of one or the other. My take away message was threefold. One, don't underestimate the role of randomness in explaining phenomena. Two, be aware that a large number of unlikely things happen all the time due to randomness and the shear number of things that are happening. Three, just because something is rare doesn't mean it's not important--you have to consider the potential severity of a possible outcome as well as its probability of occurring.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease

I'm going to save this one for a full post.

The Art of Speed Reading People: How To Size People Up and Speak Their Language by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron

See my previous post. I decided not to continue reading it after all. Maybe I'll pick it up again later. However, I did ask my dad all the questions to figure out his personality type and read him his profile: "ISTJs are pretty much hopeless. They are overly harsh and bossy. They're impossible to get along with so you should just avoid them altogether. And they smell bad." You should have seen the look on his face! I got him good!

The Walking Dead, Volumes 1-6 by Robert Kirkman

I heard good things about these graphic novels a while ago but I resisted--zombie stories don't generally get me too excited. However, it's hard to resist picking up a few new graphic novels at Borders over Christmas break. And thank goodness for that because these are great. They're actually quite light on the typical zombies-hunt-humans horror stuff. The thing that's so interesting about these stories is that the focus is generally on the ordinary: overprotective fathers, power struggles, sex, loneliness, fundamental morals, etc.

Y: The Last Man, Volumes 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughan

All of a sudden, every male of every species dies. Except one young man and his pet monkey. Cool premise? You bet. Good story to match? Yup. What's going to happen to the human race? I don't know but I'm going to keep reading to find out. (So far, not as interesting, deep, or original as The Walking Dead but good nonetheless.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Personal History Statement

In an essay, discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree. Please limit your response to 500 words maximum.

Just finished a draft. I need a strong drink. Not to mention a "Statement of Purpose."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Speed Read This!

Earlier this week I was reading a book called The Art of Speed Reading People: How to Size People Up and Speak Their Language [amazon]. It's about the 16 personality types and explains how you can improve communication with someone after figuring out their type. I'm a sucker for relevant-to-real-life psychology (almost) as much as I am for relevant-to-real-life economics so I thought it would be interesting. After taking the test, I learned that I'm an introvert-intuitive-feeler-perceiver (INFP). The subsequent description fit astonishingly well. (I wondered if it was like astrology in the sense that all of the descriptions might fit. Nope. Color me impressed.) However, I also realized that, as an intuitive, I generally focus on the big picture and miss lots of small details. You know, the kinds of details that you have to pick up on to "speed read people." Wonderful.

In all seriousness, I never expected the book to be useful for anything more than entertainment. However, wouldn't it be nice if the book practiced what it preached? Should it not take steps to "speak my language" after it has "sized me up"?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Last Minute Gift Idea + Best Movies of the Year

My favorite movie of the year comes out on DVD this Tuesday. In the true spirit of the holidays, I've informed my family that someone *must* get it for me for Christmas.

The movie? Once [amazon]. Anyone who's the tiniest bit romantic should love this movie along with anyone who likes music similar to Damien Rice. It's hard to explain beyond that. It's a romantic musical but it's not a typical romance nor a typical musical. It's just a great story about two people meeting and developing a relationship. (Sort of in the documentary-style spirit of my favorite movie, Before Sunrise, but less romantic.) Very simple and realistic yet amazingly beautiful, along with great musical performances. (Bonus movie gift recommendation: Collector's Editions of Blade Runner come out on Tuesday in DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray!)

This seems as good a place as any for a "Best of the year" list, so here's the cream of the crop for films this year. I chose to do a top 3 because no other films I've seen come very close to these picks.

1. Once
2. Away From Her
3. Enchanted

Once was a joy to watch and kept me thinking about it for weeks after seeing it. Away From Her, about a man dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's in his wife, is one of those difficult to watch movies that truly deserve to be watched. Lastly, we have Disney's Enchanted. This is a perfect "desert island movie" that you could watch over and over and never get bored. Amy Adams is funny and cute as the princess-to-be while James Marsden is surprisingly hilarious as the prince.

Two musicals on in my top 3 movies of the year? I'm surprised myself. I'm definitely not a fan of traditional musicals but these films show that the genre can be much more broad than we usually see. (By the way, my favorite pre-2007 musical is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.)

Lastly, let me say that I have seen No Country for Old Men and it's not the best movie of the year despite what many others have said. It's interesting, for sure, but Stephen Hunter's review hits the nail on the head. It's an amazing display of skill but the joke's on us and it's not that funny.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

From the Comments

Renee Denfeld, Who wrote this book, All God's Children, IS SEVERELY MISINFORMED!! Where the hell did you get your information? Did you make it up for a more interesting story? I am an original member of NGP and sickboys, (i was a sick chick) and the stuff you wrote in your book is so off that it makes my blood boil. You are putting out slanderous info about a very vulnerable and lost group of people. Shame on you. You should find a way to right your wrongs.

Hazel 5150

This comment was in response to my previous post on Denfeld's claim that increasing initiation costs increased the demand for street family affiliation. Just to be clear, the "you" is most certainly referring to Denfeld and not myself. It isn't surprising that her book [amazon] wasn't well received by the street family community. I also wouldn't be surprised if it contained inaccuracies. (Although it was pretty compelling for the most part and didn't seem to confuse speculation for facts all that much.) In any case, I've followed up with Hazel and will report back if I get a response.