Anything That Interests Me! :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Quick Note on How To Read Anything that Interests Me!

A Quick Note on How To Read Anything that Interests Me!

I have had some comments sent to me via facebook, some via email, and some have tagged on my board, and for the next few months I encourage people to send me materials or stuff that I should read, and certainly people should feel free to tell me comments or their analyses, and so on.

However, I realise that there are a few problems that I have to highlight. This doesn't apply to all the emails I get; only some. (However, it's good general advice.)

Let's take an example. Recently, I wrote a normative analysis of certain government policies. Now, I got two main comments for that - the first comment was a rather simple comment that I should read more political economy but seemed to mistake my simple analysis for quantitative economics, which it certainly wasn't; the second comment was an economics reply, which dealt with intertemporal allocative problems and commitment issues and evolutionary theories and a general analysis of Singapore's current issues ranging from - I kid you not - low birth rates to evolutionary fitness of Singaporeans.

Now, the thing is that I've read my J S Mill, and yes, people have freedom of speech and thought. However, having said that, here are some rules that should guide you in reading all articles, but including this one as well:

1. What is the context?
The two replies to my analysis have ignored the context - it's a Singaporean context; it's written in response to the fact that there are mostly one sided comments on many yahoo FTP articles; it's written in response to certain events, etc. Context is important.

2. What is written? What does the author say?
Now, the thing is that this is amazing. Despite my repeated exhortations, people can still read wrongly! E.g. "UBS' retirement age is 62!" I never said it wasn't. "We can still be reemployed after retirement, OK!" I never said you can't. "Why should economists decide our future?" I never said they did or should. And so on, and so forth. Please, please, read what is written, not what you think is written.

I shall say this again as it's so important: Read what is written, not what you think is written.

3. Try to think about the new information or ideas, rather than rejecting them out of hand.
This site is meant to increase your views, not to narrow them. This site is meant to share my ideas on what interests me, not what necessarily interests you. So if you can't take new ideas, you shouldn't be here. If you don't like reading, go somewhere else.

On the other hand, if you're here - then think about what I've written and see if it applies to you; if it's logical; if it makes sense; if it doesn't, then does the issue lie with you or with me? [And bear in mind I don't usually write on issues I don't know.]

If I am wrong on the other hand, then make a mental note, or better yet, send me a correction! If it's an opinion you don't agree with, rather than something "positive" (factual), then think about what you don't like, why, and why your underlying assumptions are better than my underlying assumptions. Don't bother sending me an unsubstantiated opinion; opinions should have some basis.

4. Question, challenge and think through what you read.
I have said that before, so I shan't bother explaining. Question! Question! Question! I would like to thank my old teacher Ms M who taught me that when I was a young H S way back in '02/'03.

In any case, for some - odd - people who don't seem to like my writing, they shall be pleased to know that I will be stopping further posts on this blog in July 2011, in a few months' time. I shall be concentrating on other sites, and also spending more time on my postgraduate diploma. There are many things for me to do, rather than just contributing ideas to help university juniors or people asking for advice. Tschuess!

I've had a great run and made a lot of online friends (online enemies tend to make nasty comments then disappear permanently; online friends (who sometimes also happen to be my friends in real life) occasionally send me more tags or emails or write nice things about me, such as Accelerator and Defensedefumer).

As for those who like my writing, well, you've had my company on many occasions and some of you - well, a whole bunch of you - have been receiving nice emails and comments from me. It was a pleasure knowing you. Thank you very much to all my friends, nice readers and good passersby who gave me nice comments and some really funny, in terms of happy, comments too. So don't be surprised when in a few months' time, I send a goodbye notice! :) Thank you to all my loyal readers!

To end on a sad note: It has been great blogging; but as we say, all good things come to an end.

Anything that Interests Me!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anything that interests me: Short Reflections on Acts of Insight

I'm supposed to be gearing up to present my thoughts on the New Institutional Economics and reputation mechanisms (in historical institutional analysis) tomorrow to my thesis supervisor, but here I am with a quick reflection on Usher's acts of insight.

As such, I am going to coast along with my smarts ... nah, this part won't fool my friends. I read the relevant materials already and have presented that stuff twice. Please, Lord, let the results turn out in my favour.

By the way, as an additional apropos comment, when I was surverying the literature (that's the academic term for "surfing the net"), I came across blogs devoted to analysis of the cumulative model and other economics fields as well! Lovely! That is a "true contribution to knowledge" :)

In any case, let me get back to Usher's model.

The cumulative synthesis approach to invention states that inventions come about like this:

1. There is a perception of a problem.
2. The stage is set, where data related to the problem is assembled.
3. An act of insight occurs that goes beyond the act of skills committed by professionals (like myself, although as to what kind of professional I am, being trained in economics, history and economic history, is a completely different matter).
4. There is critical revision of the invention, and the process continues.

Now, it doesn't take a genius (like me) to figure out that the really hard bit is the act of insight. The way the problem is perceived or seen is also quite problematic, but it isn't that hard relative to the insight bit. (As the saying goes, fools may often ask more than the wisest can answer. I see quite a lot of that in some of my students, though! Asking questions is generally easier than finding the solutions, although asking the right questions can be hard sometimes.) Collecting the data and setting the stage seems to require a fair bit of work, but it is not that difficult given modern research settings. Critical revision? Long, gruelling work, true enough, but it can be done.

And so it came to pass that I was thinking quite hard about this act of insight. What is it?

Individual insights of a peculiar nature, perhaps? Or maybe merely just a small revision to the received wisdom. I couldn't get a handle around it.

I wonder what it is. What causes it? What helps it along?

As I attended the lecture on science and technology last week, Patrick O'Brien was really funny (making all sorts of derogatory remarks about himself, even). He claimed that some people were destined for heaven, unlike him! He also made a lot of jokes about the Irish, as he's Irish. OK, we had a lot of good laughs and it was after all an introduction to this difficult field with four LSE experts.

But the thing is that he didn't mention what the acts of insight were about, and rarely touched on them. Now that is puzzling because until we know what constitutes an insight, where it comes from, I think the cumulative synthesis model is as much a mysterious model as any other attempts to understanding innovation in science and technology.

I shall sleep on it.

Anything that interests me!

PS My friend Roastbird had an interesting article on his facebook site as well, called "The Truth Wears Off", which is basically "The Decline Effect and Scientific Method". It was about how it becomes hard over time to replicate certain findings and the more you do experiments, the less marked the effects become. Cool stuff; I'd recommend looking up the newyorker to search for Jonah Lehrer's "The Truth Wears Off".

PPS Even a moment's reflection should remind all of us engaged in research work that Lehrer's article is very, very important as a reminder for us. That's because if we are to earn the MSc (Masters of SCIENCE), be it social science or physical science or historical/evolutionary science, those publication implications do indeed impinge on us.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Example from IPPT on How to Get First Class Honours in Economics

An Example from IPPT on How to Get First Class Honours in Economics

Alright, today I am going to write about an example from IPPT, on how to get first class honours in economics, or for that matter, how to get first class honours in most majors at NUS in general anyways.

[This is in reference to the original, specific article I wrote a few months back which was the most popular article of all my writings: obviously, simply, and very aptly titled: How to Get First Class Honours at NUS. People apparently liked that more than religion, science, mentalism, magic, psychology, and other magical intellectual hobbies of mine.]

I've been receiving a lot of emails on that post, with people asking me about how to get first class and other related topics about academics, on how to study, how to do well in exams, and all that kind of thing. And so I've decided to "pander" to my readers and write a single illustrative story, which, when understood, will help you gain insights into performing better for tests and exams in general, and will definitely contribute to you getting first class. It's all in the moral.

It's a moral that we all know but need to reminded here and there, and now and then.

Most likely if you're a good friend of mine you've heard this story a million times, and I apologise in advance.

I was training for the IPPT some time back, and in any case had been passing it ever since I left full time National Service. However, for one reason or another, during that one particular period, I had a string of failures in a row, and my birthday was fast approaching.

This was weird - my training routine hadn't changed, and I was doing the same methods which had gotten me the "pass" incentives, so what was going on? (I ended up in RT for that year, by the way, so there's a poem I wrote on Eye Pee Pee Tee. Pity!)

I trained every day, and yet was going nowhere. I just "couldn't hit the cow's backside with a banjo".

One day, my brother happened to pass me by to take a phone call, when he saw me doing push ups. When he was done with his call, he told me what the problem was.

I'll try to recreate this, it was some time back: "Hey man, what are you doing?" he asked.

I said, "Pushups! To train for chin ups. I'm going to do 40, like when I passed the last round."

He said, "That's not how you do it! You're just going through the motions. You have to squeeze the back muscles, and use this part, and that part..." and he promptly jumped to the floor and did it, the "proper way".

"Doing 20 proper push ups is better than doing 40 rubbish ones," he intoned severely. "You didn't do it like that last time, when you were younger, anyways," he said, "You'd do all the exercises properly rather than as if they were chores and you had to rush through them."

That was it! Voila!

To cut a long story short, I passed my IPPT that year, after doing the first phase of RT. I got the point of the story, and it's stayed with me ever since. It's something we all know but we don't do.

It's the same with IPPT and it's the same with studying for Economics examinations.

The moral is this: when we train for IPPT with passing in mind, we don't just do the training half heartedly, or just do it for the sake of doing it. We will exert maximum effort. We will make sure the part of the muscles we are training get the full brunt of the effort. To put it one way, if you're doing the bicep-curl at the gym - you make sure it's the biceps that are doing the work and you're not swinging your arm up and down to make use of momentum.

Same goes for studying, and especially for Economics.

I am pretty sure that most of my classmates learnt the same things as I did in Economics class, but they didn't get the first class because they just couldn't score in the examinations. CAP was the main problem. Why?

[I'm generalising here. Not all were like that, of course.] They could do the tutorials because they copied them from their classmates. Some of them formed study groups, but didn't really, really study. They went through the motions in class, and only parroted what the lecture notes said. They sat in classes and daydreamed. Some of them read their materials and took it face value. Some of them dropped out of economics in their third year with a pass or merit degree. Some made it to honours year by smarts.

So when it came to answering thinking questions in the exams, or answering harder questions, they all got murdered.

Here's the attitude of the first class student:

How can I do the tutorial, by myself? What are the mistakes that I have made here? What are the different methods? If I don't know, who knows? Who can I ask? Let me try this again. What can I do?

Let's take a simple case, profit maximisation.

What are the different methods of solving this? The first is to use a graphical method. The second is to use the Lagrangian method. The third is to use the constrained to unconstrained method.

A good student will know this and apply this. An average kid will stick to one method and use it all the time. The poor student didn't even know about the various techniques. But what about the first class student?

The first class student will know the various assumptions behind why it is like that; what assumptions need to hold before the FOCs can be taken like that. He will also know which method is quicker for various questions, because he practised them already, over and over again. He can use the various methods at will - and understands the logic of the various methods. He might even know the preference ordering theory, WARP, the various mathematical conditions of monotonicity and continuously differentiable indifference curves, and all that kind of stuff behind the simple idea of profit maximisation. In other words, he doesn't take this for granted. He checks things out, he learns more than what lies on the surface, and he is interested in his studies.

So the moral of the story is, to get first class honours, it's all about the way you approach the subject.

It is not purely about raw hours you put in; in those hours did you really understand the subject and get the logic, memorise the steps, do the problems, try exam questions, look at textbook problems, and work them all out yourself, using various methods, and cross checking your solutions when using different methods or approaches?

Or did you spend those study hours talking with friends, chatting, doing only tutorial questions, and basically going through the motions of real, diligent, hard work? Or did most of the work, but when the hard questions came by, you ignored them or left them blank? I think the moral of the story is quite clear!

Hope you liked the moral of the story. Good luck with IPPT if you came by because of that; good luck with your studies and examinations if you came by thanks to the "Get First Class Honours in Economics" :) :) Thanks for reading and cheers.

PS Yeah, I pander to my readers sometimes. I admit! But here we call it demand-and-supply curves.

Anything that interests me!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Anything that interests me! - Infatuation with Handel (Haendel)

Anything that interests me! - Infatuation with Handel (Haendel)

I'm supposed to be writing about the New Institutional Economics and thinking of various private-order institutions and stuff along those lines, but instead here I am blogging and writing about my new infatuation - Handel. Handel's music is fantastic.

I know I'm supposed to speak German and call it Haendel, but I am so used to calling him Handel that it's quite hard to switch to German. I can, though. But I won't. So alternatively, anytime you see Handel, it's actually Haendel. Linguistic problem solved!

A small quiz is quite apt here. You know the common saying (well, to me, it's common):

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, ..."

What's the answer?

Well, the answer isn't "teach", for those of you cynics out there. "Wrong" answer! Teaching is a good and noble profession - and certainly not all teachers are theory-oriented. Teachers can be good at what they do, and some teachers can practise. Hahaha! The answer, to me, is:

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, cant!"

Before you point out a missing apostrophe, allow me to humbly refine your English: cant is defined as "to use pretentious language, barbarous jargon... to talk with an affectation". There are many other definitions, but this is the sense I'm using it here.

What's the point?

Well, although that's a joke, I think it's quite an apt quiz here, because I can't play Handel and I certainly know diddly squat about organ music and choral music. At least I'm honest! Yet I am writing about Handel, but I'll try not to use pretentious language because I really don't know much about Handel other than the fact that I like his music.

But what I do know is that Handel's music is extremely charming and somehow very pleasing to my ears. It really moves me.

There's a little story behind this.

Some time back, I attended a Protestant Church at Bishopsgate, London. Someone played Handel-Halvorsen's Passacaglia for Cello and Violin, substituting the violin for a viola, and I was very intrigued by this music. It made me feel very strange and, for want of a better word, tingly.

At the same event, another musician played the organ, and this time he showed how his feet moved. And I was suitably impressed. Wow. I never knew that feet could play instruments with that kind of dexterity - for a piano player like me, the only use of the feet are for pressing on the pedals, much like driving a car. [Driving a car, my foot! I couldn't resist that "lame" joke. OK, no more puns.]

In any case, since then, I've learnt how to appreciate Handel's music. That basically means that I listen to him in place of my former favourite, Mozart. Symphony No. 40 has been supplanted.

I've learnt that Handel was based, once upon a time, in London and composed music for operas at Covent Garden! I love Covent Garden! Handel even owned a company at Covent Garden. This is a really practical application of a microeconomics education.

(Apparently, the reason why he's called Handel rather than the German Haendel is because he lived so long in England that he became a naturalised Englishman.)

In any case, the music I like the best are: Organ Concerto Op. 7, No. 1; Harpsichord Suite in D minor; "O Be Joyful", Psalm 100; Organ Concerto Op. 4, No. 1; and Dettingen Te Deum, "Vouchsafe O Lord..."

Perhaps, I shall use Handel's music as background music for my thesis writing. After all, I've done that before:

I associate Joe 'Bean' Esposito - You're The Best Around with my honours thesis, having always played it to energise myself for the long hours of data collection, and computer lab work. I also associate Corrinne May not just with my ex-girlfriend, but also with Namazie's physics module. Maybe Handel shall be the "theme song" for my master's dissertation!

PS I shall be writing more about "how to get first class honours" since recently I've been flooded with lots of requests for advice on that area. No one really seems to care about psychology, mentalism, history, literature, and music. But they seem to really care a lot about Economics, Econometrics, First Class Honours and basically academic-related stuff. Hahaha! I read all my fan mail; don't worry.

Anything that interests me!