Anything That Interests Me! :)





Monday, November 15, 2010

A Gem From Youtube

Recently, I have taken to listening to more Classical and Romantic music pieces, rather than pursuing my apparently "one track listening habit" (Fong) of listening solely to Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

OK, OK. that's a bad joke from an old friend of mine; I certainly don't only listen to Symphony No. 40. I listen to a couple more songs as well.

So, how did I get more songs to listen to, and what gem from youtube am I talking about?

Wait, this is a good one; allow me to build up my story first.

Well, I went to youtube and started watching University Challenge. University Challenge is one of my favourite shows although I am not British and not a fan of Jeremy Paxman. It's basically a general knowledge quiz where Paxman fires esoteric questions at university students; it makes people with a lot of general knowledge feel good, that our skills are actually relevant for esoteric quiz shows. Actually Jeremy Paxman is quite cool; must be great earning tonnes of money hosting general knowledge quizzes.

Well, one of the sections was classical music in general. I basically flunk that one everytime it comes up on the show, because I keep on shouting out Mozart!! Beethoven!! Brahms!! Erm... Mozart!!

Come on, you know what I am talking about - you most likely play along to "Who Wants to Be a Billionaire" too and "Wheel of Fortune". Unless you don't watch them, of course.

This time, I decided to get the names of the composers. I can learn more about composers, and can get ideas for classical pieces to listen to. Why not?

So, I waited, pen in hand, for the answers (Paxman reveals the composers when the students inevitably give up). And for that one particular show on one particular day, the answer of the day was Sibelius.

Now, call me the world's greatest psychic, but the vast majority of people won't know who Sibelius was, unless

(a) they are Finnish
(b) they are experts in University Challenge
(c) they somehow learnt that in music school.

Hey, I am psychic!

No sweat - hey, I am here to learn - I went to search for music by Sibelius on youtube so as to improve on my general music knowledge.

And then I saw this comment, right below some beautiful piece by Jean Sibelius (I think it was Finlandia, most likely the national anthem of Finland, a very beautiful piece for a very beautiful country. I have edited the English to make it flow more, but I am really not making this up. It's lovely for those who know their history and can take a really good story:

Comment on youtube

I am Finnish and I remember a story my grandfather - who was a war veteran - told me a long time ago:

He was on his way to a veterans' meeting in Helsinki back in the late 1980s and when he got there, Grandpa noticed that he didn't have any money on him.

He naturally thought: "What now? I don't have any money." It was getting embarrassing as it soon became clear to the taxi driver that he didn't have any money to pay for the fare.

The taxi driver turned around and said: "Don't worry, this one's on me."

Grandpa was taken aback, and said: "Excuse me?" and he looked at the driver. He was a bit confused.

The driver smiled at him and said: "Thanks to you guys, I can drive a Mercedes, not a Lada!"

First of all, hahahaha! Lovely!! Second of all, so many people got the story, they clicked on the thumbs up button. Third of all, it's very nice because there are kind, appreciative taxi drivers who realise that they can drive Mercedes taxis rather than Lada taxis if Stalin had won! One comment on that story was: Great taxi driver; great Grandpa!


***


On a secondary note, I attended a church concert in London, and there was a viola player. [I think that's what he's called. Violist?] Anyways, he was really funny because he related to us some viola jokes.

What is the range of a viola?
As far you can kick it.

How can you tell that a violist is playing out of tune?
If the bow is moving.

Why do people dislike viola players instantly?
It saves time!

And my favourite:

Define a perfect pitch.
That's when you throw a viola into a dustbin without hitting the rim!!!

Notice: No offence to viola players. I thought that professional viola player played well actually!! The jokes were from the musician himself.

Anything that interests me!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Anything that interests me! - Talent Is Overrated, by Geoffrey Colvin

I happened to be waiting for someone a few weeks ago, when I was still in Singapore. It was a long wait (she was late) and so I decided to spend some time in the bookstore nearby (I think it was Kinokuniya, but I could very well be mistaken). I browsed through the books there aimlessly, in the hope that something would catch my eye - but all the good books were wrapped in shrink wrap and I just couldn't open them to sample the goodness inside.

Then I saw it - an unwrapped book lying in a forlorn stack at the corner of the bookstore, completely ignored and unwanted. The title was Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. This could be mildy interesting, I thought, and I picked it up. It wasn't mildly interesting. I would say that this is one of the most informative, interesting and important books for 2010.

I have read many books - and it is my personal belief - that personal excellence and genius are not born, but made. Naturally, in the nature vs nurture debate, both nature and nurture are needed. The question arises as to which of the two is more important and plays a larger role. Obviously one who can't speak from some congenital defect is never going to be a Winston Churchill, and certainly one who has no hands from birth is never going to be Tiger Woods (although there are perhaps possible exceptions to this, such as Terry Fox, who could run despite losing one leg).

The books, related to the nature vs nurture debate, I read in the past normally dealt with total lifetime practice, which is a term that means someone who trains longer in a lifetime than someone else tends to be better at something. I myself refined the concept to mean total effective, practical lifetime practice, because there are some people who train longer than others but don't get better at anything because they don't train "effectively" and "practically". I am certain that there are others who have written on this more effectively than I have, and besides this research is commonly available to others.

Talent is Overrated must be understood in this context. It is not groundbreaking work. It refines a core idea that has been present for a long time, and summarises research already done. Yet it is incredibly important:

It is the first book that brings together related strands of research and the latest in the literature, and above all, Colvin actually adds his own ideas of how the research can be applied. This "how can it be applied" part is very important and central to this book.

I will only say the big things here (the small things can be found in the book, but remember, the devil is in the details): it is deliberate practice that makes all the difference. Deliberate practice is not easy, as it requires one to focus on parts of performance that were not satisfactory, and to consistently remain in the learning zone by rehearsing to improve precisely those unsatisfactory moments.

This book is really important as it goes on to deal with applications, the presence of passion, where motivation comes from, personality, memory and other aspects of performance. My wonderful memory, for example, doesn't come from any innate physical/genetic/ God-given prowess - damn! - but arises from the fact that I have been immersed in a theoretical structure long enough to hang facts upon that structure in a way that makes sense to me.

I would say this is a must read for anyone interested in improving his memory and thinking skills, and also a must read for anyone who wants to know the secrets of superb performance. There's a difference between good and superb performance. This book, if I may paraphrase the title of another book, tells you how to go from Good to Great.

Anything that interests me!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Anything that interests me! - Thank You Note

Anything that interests me! - Thank You Note

I have been meaning to write this for quite some time already, but I have been procrastinating. After all, I have so many things to do - I'm currently reading Economic History, revising English, and browsing through 20th century history and a lot of other related tasks and tactical activities. But I've to get down to it, so here I am - I've got to get this off my chest!

A Notice:

Thank you to all my clever and educated readers! You make my day.

I was told that my writing was interesting yet personal, provides an interesting perspective on things, handles "trolls" well (I've no bleeding idea what a troll specifically is, other than some kind of person who bugs others online, but let's just take this neologism for granted and appreciate the general positive comment), is considered and measured, and is extremely gratifying especially in a age when most blogs do not write in proper language nor in words that are fit for intellectual consumption.

One of my uncles even reads my blog, which is very interesting because I am pretty sure I hadn't even told him about it. Furthermore, his comments about the good quality of the writing are incredibly kind, and his insightful and perspicacious comments about some difficulties in my life and my varied twists and turns in grappling with philosophical thought are incredibly accurate. I am encouraged greatly. I now feel that I can really write well! I once knew it, but now I can feel it too. One most wonderful person even called for more posts, which is even better vindication to me.

To my dear readers: Thank you, why, thank you! (I really mean it.)

I am glad to announce that I will be constantly blogging (that means once a week or so - hey, he who controls the definitions controls the debate) when I am doing my masters, so you'll definitely be able to read my caustic, rebarbative yet incisive, introspective and intellectually witty writing if it so pleases you.

Furthermore, I will also seek to get better and better at my already impossibly perfect, amazingly addictive and wonderful writing. (This one is a joke. The "impossibly perfect... writing" part, I mean, and not the I will seek to get better part.)

Geoff Colvin of "Talent is Overrated" fame will help me in this - I think his suggestions for how to become even better at anything will some in handy. I address his research in my next few posts.

Special thanks to all my friends, loyal readers, and colleagues who have given me great comments and encouragements.

It feels great to receive your emails, praise, comments, ideas for improvement, and requests for help.

Thank you people.

Anything that interests me!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Are you in the USP? Do you study History or Economics at NUS?

Are you in the USP? Do you study History or Economics at NUS? Are you a freshman/ freshie?

This post is for you :)

Q and A

I usually write to the people who ask me for advice or write on my comment tagboard. Mostly, I get all sorts of interesting comments, questions and ideas, and very nice ones, too! However, since I notice that recently most people have been asking me about USP, Economics and History, this post is dedicated to freshmen/ freshies/ new students at NUS or anyone who happens to pass by and indicates some passing interest. I also note that it's near CORS bidding time that they send me this very interesting deluge of emails. It's fine :)

[As an aside, I feel a "warm glow" or "impure altruism" or maybe even some kind of happiness when I help others by sharing my experiences or my knowledge, not just solely because of advice on this blog, but also when I share my travel experiences or German studies programme. I think it makes blogging such an interesting enterprise - you get to help people while you do your thing/ what you like. Beautiful, isn't it?]

Most Economics juniors of mine came to read this article "How to Get First Class Honours in Economics at NUS" or "How to Study Econometrics 1" or "How to Study Econometrics 2/ Rebuttals to some comments". Others just came to me because they know me already. I summarise those articles basically here, in a single post, as that might help you:


How to Get First Class Honours in Economics
for more details, see actual article

How does one get a first class honours in Economics at NUS? I wrote that I've absolutely no idea. But here are some things that I did, and those can maybe inspire you.

1. You have to be willing to work long and hard. I mean long hours and hard work. Long hours: I spent almost five to twelve hours in the Central Library every day - on top of lectures and tutorials. Hard work: for instance, for Econometrics - a bane of existence for most undergraduates unless they're math majors - I did the entire textbook... at least thrice.

2. You need to get help for mathematics and statistics. Unless you're a math major or a stats major, it is very likely that you're in my position - you know some math and some stats, but you can't seem to prove the Stolper-Samuelson theorem or Rybczynski theorem. I mean, even though I did the module and once knew how to do to the Rybczynski theorem by heart, it was thanks to getting good help from my trusty friend, Roastbird. He helped me out also for Econometrics 2 - a killer module. Get help from real mathematicians or real statisticians! We're economists.

3. You need to get friends. This is related to point 2, but point 2 is about the importance of mathematics and statistics and how your A level math or whatever isn't going to give you any advantage. Friends on the other hand... help you with tutorials, help you with lectures, lend you materials, give you heads-up... what else can I say? Get economics friends! Quod erat demonstrandum.

4. You need to get a good supervisor, and start working early on your thesis. This is because in NUS you need to get an A- or better for your thesis to get first class honours, on top of a sterling CAP. These are self evident arguments above, so I won't explain further. Finding a good supervisor and a good thesis topic are all topics that can take up entire posts or even entire blogs!

5. You need luck. I am entitled to hindsight bias, and thus can say my all time favourite (and many of my friends either hear this from my mouth or label me as such) "I'm a genius". Hahaha! How nice if that were true. However, I'll have to be really honest with you and say that luck plays a small but significant role.


How to Study Econometrics 1

1. No one actually knows how to study econometrics and do well at it. I've searched the whole Net and asked countless people. That's why I am attempting to answer the almighty question for students worldwide: "How the heck do I study Econometrics well and do well in Econometrics exams?"

2. But there are indeed things that you can do to study Econometrics and do well at it in examinations :)

3. The question fields/ sets are limited, so these are the fields that you need to know and master:

probability, statistics, matrices, linear regression and other regression models (e.g. log-log, log-linear, linear-log, quadratic, and know what the differences are, what the intepretations are, and what the similarities are)

4. You should do questions every day. The thing is that the field is limited, but the questions are vast in number.

5. Theoretically, you can learn the equations and formulae, then practise questions related to them. That is the best option, but the thing is: Your teacher didn't give you easy equations right? He also didn't give you questions related to those right?

I know, I was there. So the point 4, which is more general, holds. Do questions every day. You can actually learn the formulae and then apply them, but at higher levels, this method will not work. So just try to practise.

6. MATRICES turn out to be so important, but I didn't know that before. But now you do. To study Econometrics well, you definitely need more than a passing command of Matrices - you need to learn all the hard terms and methods immediately!

7. You need to learn a lot of important and hard words like heteroskedasticity, homoskedasticity, linear regression, multivariate normal distributions, variances, standard deviations, means, modes, medians, and more. Your command of esoteric language in the weird realm of Econometrics will improve. You have to know all that in order to do well, because questions routinely have those terms:

e.g. "According to the Gauss Markov theorems, with i.i.d., BLA BLA BLA?"

E.g. Do you know the law of iterated expectations?

8. Even though Econometrics is tough, you can study Econometrics if you have the motivation and persistence.

9. Mathematics will be your friend and your neighbour. The good thing is, that when we study Econometrics, we unlike Mathematicians, do not need to have formal rigid proofs, but we can do easier stuff than they do. I know, I know, it looks Greek to everyone (which it is - most of the symbols are Greek!) but trust me, when you study Econometrics you learn hard stuff that is easier than what pure mathematicians do. So there. We have it good, in that sense.

10. To get the highest marks, get into your teacher's good books and get a lot of practice.


How to Study Econometrics 2 (Quek DF 2008/2009)

1. Complete proofs.

2. Learn the individual parts and then bring them all together.

3. Practise the problem sets.

4. Understanding truly, and real learning is better than getting the form right - i.e. don't do my performance method; use Quek's real learning method.

5. Know your lecturer.

I also answer some other questions that were posed to me, via email or via the tagboard or via face to face interaction:


Should I go for the USP?

I strongly recommend the USP for good students. Good students are defined as those students who are already experts in at least one academic field, like to read, think through issues and are articulate or eloquent. The USP will teach you how to synthesise knowledge and how to write academic articles and academic, maybe even journal standard, papers. Basically you get very good academic training and you can learn cross subject, interdisciplinary subjects that are very interesting.

Warning: not all USP students are good students though, as some get eliminated halfway through the course. You will most likely require a CAP of above 3.5 just to stay in, and must be on an honours programme (3 years' degree = no USP certificate).


Should I do Economics?

Do you love maths? Do you know a lot of statistics? Believe in drawing graphs, running regressions on computer programmes, or writing esoteric materials? Then economics at university is your cup of tea, I kid you not.

On a more serious note, if you like Economics or did it successfully before or think that you can see a future career in it, such as in government or in the private sector, go right ahead. It is known as the queen of the social sciences because of its difficulty though!


Is behavioural economics mathematical?

All of economics is mathematical. But behavioural is largely empirical or experimental based, so it is more statistical in nature rather than mathematical. Basic statistics is needed.

Yet at the same time, behavioural is more qualitative and verbally argumentative rather than being like microeconomics or macroeconomics. If you like writing or arguing or reading academic papers, there's absolutely no problem! Should be very fun; I recommend it - well, I did it after all. You can read about behavioural on my blog - use the links on the right if you can!


Is Basant scary?

YES!!! Basant is very scary!!! I got a B for his module, EC4102 - GOD SAVE THOSE WHO DO HIS MODULE!!! God save you. You will need divine help!

I like him, by the way. He's quite an interesting chap! But he is very strict and - dare I say it - old school!!!


Should I do philo or economics?

YM, I told you already!


Development Economics?

Verbal based rather than mathematical - I should say do it only if you're good at reading and writing, and exploring various themes. A basic grounding of economic history or basic development economics should be useful in doing EC4371. I did it under Shin at NUS, and learnt verbal models of heteroeconomics that challenged monoeconomics.

Economic History?

Hard to do an ISM on Economic History at NUS, but easy to do at LSE, UOM and Cambridge. Reason is that - there aren't many economic historians at NUS! There are several, including a self-styled contemporary economic historian (Shin), but they are fewer than DGE model theorists and empirical, applied economists and econometricians.

Good luck, my juniors! All the best!

Anything that interests me!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Roger Backhouse's Penguin History of Economics

Roger Backhouse's The Penguin History of Economics

I have just finished reading this book, The Penguin History of Economics, and found that it was a very well written and interesting book on economic history. Necessarily brief, the author has convered most of the possible ground and has done it most wonderfully.

In short: Economics started as a nebulous and amorphous subject that spanned moral philosophy and law, and it evolved over time to become political economy, a practical application of economic ideas, and then finally became the mathematical monster that we view with fear and apprehension today. As Krugman once said, as an economist in good standing, he is perfectly capable of writing things that nobody can read.

Backhouse argues that with the increase in numbers of Russian, and some German, mathematicians going to the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, economics slowly became more mathematical. Losing the historical and psychological components came about slowly not just because of the influx of what we Singaporeans would call "foreign talent", but also because of the wish of economists to make their subject more like the natural sciences, like physics.

However, and this isn't just my opinion, there have been arguments against the mathematisation of economics. One is that the mathematics require a vast simplification of economic ideas so that they are amenable to mathematical treatment. Another is the fact that General Equilibrium models, which are deductive and general in nature, are no more than mathematical edifices which have really little to do with empirical reality. In other words, while deductive reasoning aims to show that the conclusions really flow from the premisses, some DGE models are so general as to be useless in the real world. Yet another argument is the fact that institutions are largely ignored in mathematical models, and yet the structure and institutions of society are key features - historical and sociological features, I might add - that affect economies.

Overall, this is a very interesting book that appeals probably to those with plenty of time on their hands, or a MSc of Economic History to study for, or people like me who are boring - I mean, academically inclined. Roger Backhouse writes beautifully and the key examples are short, sharp and to the point. I've learnt that economics is actually a very diverse and colossal subject - and that as my thesis supervisor once said, even the greatest geniuses among you will never be able to learn everything there is to learn.

This is a humbling book which points out future areas of research and reading. A 8/10 for laymen and a 9.5/10 for people in this field, economic history.

Anything that interests me~

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tyler Cowen's Make Him Fight Dragons Applied

Tyler Cowen's Make Him Fight Dragons Applied

OK, I have been meaning to write (I mean "right") this for a long time. I had a talk with an acquaintance - I mean, friend - of mine and she had told me about her dream man. 

I say "dream man" advisedly; after all, a dream isn't real, and the man she was telling me about wasn't real at all.

Now I had put the conversation behind me (it was a fortnight ago!) and was going about my normal, everyday life when I read Tyler Cowen's "Discover Your Inner Economist". Well, of course, I read economics books - I have an Economics degree, remember? 

The thing is that you might wonder what a talk with a friend about her dream man and Tyler Cowen's book have in common. 

The key thing is signalling.

Although some may argue that economists have absolutely no right to go around poking their noses in affairs of the heart and relationships, Cowen rightly points out that it is all a matter of signalling. People are constantly signalling to each other and in the case of dating it is particularly and obviously, well, obvious.

Cowen calls the particular approach of advertising clearly and specifically the qualities that a woman wants in a man the "Make Him Fight Dragons" approach. This is a direct kind of signalling rather than the more indirect and surreptitious kind of signalling that we are used to in daily life. Basically, the woman tells her potential suitors all her requirements and then the men self-select. In other words, the men can see what kind of man she wants, and then they have to decide if they can take such a huge "dose" (I plagiarise here) of her.

Now, what's that got to do with my friend? She goes around telling everybody about her dream guy she wants to marry. I recorded down the qualities because I was flabbergasted - I mean wonderfully amazed - at her specificity. 

This is one girl who appears to know what she wants (although I am pretty sure she doesn't really know what she wants).

MLQH's dream man:

1. He must share her goals and beliefs.
2. He must be of the same religion (she is Pentecostalian/"rabid Protestantish"/ she's from New Creation Church).
3. He must be rich or have the potential to become incredibly wealthy.
4. He cannot have had girlfriends before.
5. He must be a virgin.
6. He cannot be shorter than her (and my friend in question is at least 1.64m)
7. He cannot criticise her.
8. He must be absolutely honest with her.
9. He must drive.
10. He cannot be younger but also cannot be more than 5 years older.
11. He doesn't smoke.
12. He must be self made (i.e. not reliant on parents or inheritance).
13. He isn't insecure or clingy.
14. He must be able to interact with her professors (and she is going to be a PhD holder in the nursing and medical care profession!!!).
15. He must be educated to at least a first degree level.
16. He must be of the same wavelength as her.
17. He must wine and dine her and pay for all dates.
18. Above all, he must pay for their matrimonial home and all their expenses when married.
19. All these he does willingly.

Now, I am a really sporting man and would like to wager on this one. 

The man here doesn't exist - my friend seems to have taken Cowen's idea of Making Him Fight Dragons to the extreme.

Let us assume as a simplifying assumption that in the general world population, each of the above conditions has a 50% probability, or 0.5. You'd agree with me that this is merely a simplifying condition as not half of all men smoke, and certainly less than 50% of the men in the world have at least a first degree, not 50% of all the men on earth are wealthy, and so on and so forth. Also, as a specific case, it is highly unrealistic that half the men in the world are between 0 and 5 years older than my friend. Thus, this simplifying assumption serves as a maximum, upper bound of how many men worldwide are likely to fulfil her conditions.

Let us also further assume that the dream man, the inamorato, the ideal man is willing to marry her with a 50% probability and that he is neither gay, nor bisexual, nor a celibate priest, nor married already, nor someone who does not want to marry. Two more conditions (he "wants her", and he is "eligible"), each with a 0.5 chance as per my earlier assumption.

OK, since these conditions must hold simultaneously, this means that the probability of finding this dream man (upper bound) is: 0.5 to the power of 21, which works out to be 0.000000476. The world population is currently about 6.6 billion, and let's just assume that half of them are men - so that makes 3.3 billion men (but bear in mind that some of them are still children and some of them are geriatrics). This makes her scope 1573 possible men! If the probability drops to 0.4 for each condition, her scope drops to 14 men. If it drops to 0.3 for each condition, there are 0 men. I really don't fancy her chances.

However, Cowen does suggest another method, called the Honey Trap method. Aha, this one seems more promising. The method goes something like this: attract as many men as possible and interview, review and select those that seem nice, fit your qualities, etc, etc. The problem with the Fighting Dragons method is that if the conditions are too stringent, it puts off possible eligible knights who conclude that it is too difficult to rescue the damsel; they'd rather go for the Honey Trap and take their chances against other guys instead. Maybe my friend should try that.

Interesting material. Anyways, finally - I've got it off my chest.

PS If you're interested in dating my friend, do be sure that you fulfil all her criteria and that you are either in palliative care, medicine or some nursing research field. And she is one rough, tough cookie!

Anything that interests me!

Monday, May 31, 2010

How to Get First Class Honours in Economics at NUS

How to Get First Class Honours in Economics at NUS

I am so, so, so very glad that I got my first class honours and can finally graduate from NUS. It has been a very good experience in terms of meeting many interesting people, going on student exchange, and all the things that I have learnt there - German, economics, history, USP modules, and relationships. For those of you who happened to be passing by and were looking for the keywords "how to get first class honours at NUS", I tricked you into coming here. But since you're here, there are some words of wisdom... right after I do the thank yous.

There are so many people I want to thank for my good academic results and to name all of them would make this post both long and boring. So I will just focus on two of them. One of them trained me long and hard in writing, thinking, analysing and being an all rounded scholar, and I am eternally grateful. For it wasn't just about the content that I learnt - the discipline and tenacity that I absorbed were also instrumental qualities in my academic journey. If there are any pearls of wisdom I can pass on to my students and to future generations of NUS students, it is that discipline and tenacity are crucial traits, among others. Thank you, my discipline master - dad.

The other one doesn't know any economics or history - maybe a little bit of economics. She remembers vaguely doing the damn subject in JC. She can't recall even the most basic concepts of it, and as for history - she's a scientist and has no idea what history is about. Historical facts, argumentation, debate, reasons or verbal legerdermain are not her cup of tea. Yet she has been instrumental in my first class degree. She helped me check my datasets when I collected reams of data. She stood by my side when I had to spend long hours at the computers. Thank you, Bunny, for always being there for me when I needed encouragement and support. Moral support is as important as physical or direct or actual support.

How does one get a first class honours in Economics at NUS?

Hahahahaha! I've absolutely no idea. But here are some things that I did, and those can maybe inspire you.

1. You have to be willing to work long and hard. I mean long hours and hard work. Long hours: I spent almost five to twelve hours in the Central Library every day - on top of lectures and tutorials. Hard work: for instance, for Econometrics - a bane of existence for most undergraduates unless they're math majors - I did the entire textbook... at least thrice. I got an A+, did I mention?

2. You need to get help for mathematics and statistics. Unless you're a math major or a stats major, it is very likely that you're in my position - you know some math and some stats, but you can't seem to prove the Stolper-Samuelson theorem or Rybczynski theorem. I mean, even though I did the module and once knew how to do to the Rybczynski theorem by heart, it was thanks to getting good help from my trusty friend, Roastbird. He helped me out also for Econometrics 2 - a killer module. Get help from real mathematicians or real statisticians! We're economists.

I have to point out that before I entered university, I studied mathematical economics on my own and therefore am not a typical, average student to begin with. However, studying mathematical economics and learning to use the Lagrangian multiplier in constrained maximisation, etc..., only allows you to be the usual, standard, run-of-the-mill student at NUS. In other words, knowing mathematics makes you the average guy only. No first class. I kid you not.

3. You need to get friends. This is related to point 2, but point 2 is about the importance of mathematics and statistics and how your A level math or whatever isn't going to give you any advantage. Friends on the other hand... help you with tutorials, help you with lectures, lend you materials, give you heads-up... what else can I say? Get economics friends! Quod erat demonstrandum.

4. You need to get a good supervisor, and start working early on your thesis. This is because in NUS you need to get an A- or better for your thesis to get first class honours, on top of a sterling CAP. These are self evident arguments above, so I won't explain further. Finding a good supervisor and a good thesis topic are all topics that can take up entire posts or even entire blogs!

5. You need luck. I am entitled to hindsight bias, and thus can say platitudes that "see, I told you all along", "I'm an economics genius", "I'm a scholar", or my all time favourite (and many of my friends either hear this from my mouth or label me as such) "I'm a genius". Hahaha! How nice if that were true. However, if you're reading this post, I'll have to be really honest with you and say that luck plays a small but significant role.

It was luck that I found a substitute topic for my behavioural economics thesis on reference points.

It was luck that when I ran econometric models, they turned out well after all and I found loss aversion, the result that I was looking for.

It was also luck that despite me not being able to solve the mathematical problems inherent in my research methodology, I still got a first class as the examiners were willing to see beyond the mathematics. It was a challenging yet interesting topic, after all. It was a hard fought battle but luck was on my side.

I have to mention this: I can't find the site, but there was once a girl called Audrey (Lin? I believe) who wrote about her getting first class honours at NUS. She had a hard last semester, doing all sorts of hard modules on top of the thesis, and then eventually she got her degree. She seemed to have a harder time than me (I completed the USP in year 4 sem 1.) However, she attributed it to God helping her (in addition to thanking her family). I think that was humble and correct of her. She has her head on properly. When it comes to research, hard work is important but luck plays a significant role.

Anyways I've to conclude now. Dinner beckons. Thanks to all my friends and your kind support! However, if you're an undergraduate at NUS seeking for that elusive first class at NUS, good luck to you and do keep my advice in mind. We old birds know how hard it is, and respect you if you're willing to give your degree your best shot. Consider it a tournament. Consider the degree valuable. After all, I myself did enjoy my research before getting my honours. All the best!

Anything that interests me!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Anything that interests me - Behavioural Economics

Anything that interests me - Behavioural Economics

I am back! Technically, I am supposed to be studying for my last two papers, but I've decided (rationally) that I should not put in lots of effort and instead do the bare minimum (sorry teacher!). Well, as you know, the main thing that counts for me - at least - is getting my honours degree, and with the thesis submitted... I shudder to think about it. I hope I get first class; I really do.

It's been a long four years of education here and I'm about to graduate and leave this place. On Wednesday, I even went down to sign the contract with my employer about the date I shall start work. So it looks like for the moment my formal education is almost over, unless of course I manage to get the scholarship, in which case, my formal education will be over next year in 2011.

In any case, I decided to let this post be a reflection of what I've learnt in behavioural economics, one very interesting and controversial subfield in Economics.

Let's try a few isolated points. People don't integrate assets, but rather use different mental accounting rules to make decisions on gambles and money. Isn't that curious?

It's curious because most people would say "duh", but economists think that you shouldn't bother about various mental accounts, since it's the total sum of wealth (the whole thing) that you should be concerned with.

Also, most people think differently from economists about the topic of inflation. Isn't that curious?

It's curious because economists (especially Lucas, who came up with the Misperceptions Model) believe that people do know the models that economists use. However, in real life, people don't think the same as economists do.

Next, people have money illusion - they tend to, broadly, see nominal increases as very important when they should be bothering about real increases. Isn't that curious?

It's curious because the same people can work out that inflation reduces what they can actually buy with a given sum of money. However, the same people are overjoyed when their income rises less than inflation does. Consider this example:

Inflation 10%
Wage increase 10%
Real increase 0% (because the wage increase just offsets inflation)

Yet it turns out that people would be happier in the above case relative to the next case:

Inflation 2%
Wage increase 3%
Real increase 1% (because the wage increase is more than the inflation)

The list goes on and on. So bear with me for two more examples.

People procrastinate. Isn't that curious?

It's curious because it means that people are not time consistent and they are not maximising their utility... or is it? The thing is that the present moment has a saliency that traditional standard economics ignores. Self 1 of a person wishes to do his homework at period 2, but when period 2 comes, it now becomes the present. Again, he wishes to postpone doing the homework till period 3, and so on. (Interesting stuff - but simplified to fit inside this academic blog.)

I think the best part about the course that struck me was the part on happiness.

There's a hedonic treadmill, and there's a satisfaction treadmill. Treadmill effects are basically effects that wear off, much like a treadmill that keeps going backwards as you are running forwards. You keep on running, but you don't get anywhere - precisely because it's a treadmill.

A hedonic treadmill means that people don't seem to get any happier because they adapt to happiness levels. As they get richer, they don't get any happier because now it takes much more leisure or things or enjoyment to make them happier. That's a hedonic treadmill.

On the other hand, a satisfaction treadmill is that people don't seem to get any happier because of changing aspirations. That means that as people get richer, their aspirations change. What used to make them happy is not enough now. You can see that the reverse is also true. The satisfaction treadmill also suggests that as people break their limbs or become incredibly poor, their aspiration levels are lowered, and hence they don't need as much to make them happy when they're paralysed or poor. Some kind of aspiration change occurs.

Interesting stuff eh?

As interesting, and related, is that happiness is found in the moment, yet happiness can also be memory-based and remembered.

Here is where behavioural economics seems akin to philosophy.

Do we remember - mind the pun - to fully immerse ourselves in the moment and feel happy when we are on holiday, or do we keep on taking pictures to reminisce on our holiday later?

Are we busy enjoying the moment when we savour food, or are we constantly thinking of how happy we were eating that burger yesterday or how happy we are going to be eating that burger later?

Cool stuff. Now I get back to studying for my degree.

Anything that interests me! :)