Friday, December 22, 2006

nutcracker part 2, etc.

So, The Nutcracker was excellent. Great sets and costumes, wonderful dancers, and I had forgotten how beautiful some of the music is. I was particularly impressed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her dude, and the Russian dancers. There were also some kind of cool visual effects; nothing that exciting, just stuff that would impress kids, but it impressed me too (they did this thing where they stacked a bunch of presents on top of each other, spun the stack around, and then the wind-up toy ballerina came out of a door in the stack of boxes...I still can't figure out how they did it...). The snowflakes (all caucasian, by the way) were also really good, but I spent the whole time they were on stage feeling stressed out because they had this fake snow falling while the snowflakes were dancing on point (that's where they dance on their tiptoes in those special shoes, which don't exactly have fabulous traction) and I kept imagining that one of them would slip and fall down.

In other news, I made it to Bakersfield, but not without a minor glitch. I was up late on Wednesday night finishing grading, and I didn't leave my apartment early enough to catch my flight. I just missed the BART train I was trying to take, and by the time I got to the airport, it was too late to check into my flight (normally it wouldn't have been a problem, but given that it's so close to Christmas, they probably had people flying standby, so I imagine they released my seat when I hadn't checked in by 30 minutes before the flight). In retrospect, I should have checked in online, but unfortunately it didn't occur to me to do that. At any rate, my chances of getting on a later flight were pretty much nil, so I rode BART back downtown and took the train instead. I'm still taking my flight home, though (assuming I don't miss that one too).

Speaking of flying, DWE and I are taking a trip the weekend before I start school again (a perk of dating someone with nearly a million frequent flyer miles, I suppose). He just emailed me the itinerary; we're going to Belize, specifically to Caye Caulker, a tiny island in a chain that forms the Belize Barrier Reef (largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere). I've never been to Central America before (Belize is between Mexico and Guatemala), and it will be warm and beautiful there, but mostly I'm just excited to be spending four days with DWE, given how often he is out of town.

It is neither warm nor beautiful in Bakersfield, but I'm having a nice time anyway. Last night we (my mom, my brother, my sister-in-law, and me) drove around looking at Christmas lights and then went out to dinner. Today I've been mostly catching up on my sleep and my cable TV.

Monday, December 18, 2006

the nutcracker part 1

I'm going to see The Nutcracker on Wednesday afternoon. As you may know, when I was a young child, I took ballet lessons, and I got to be in the local production of The Nutcracker (which was put on by the place where I took lessons) for many years. I was, as you can imagine, not a very good ballerina (okay, I sucked), but I did love getting to watch the other dancers who were actually good. I haven't seen The Nutcracker since I was a kid, so I'm very excited about it.

Speaking of which, I was reading a column in the Sunday NYT yesterday called "The Ethicist" where people write in with ethical dilemmas. A woman wrote in to say that she had just seen a production of The Nutcracker and that the Snow King, as well as one of the snowflakes, were played by black people, and that this had, for aesthetic reasons, ruined the entire production for her. (She compared it to casting a "one-legged midget" as Tarzan. Seriously. I can't make this shit up, people.) She wanted to know if this meant she was racist. My answer would have been "you're not racist, just retarded," but "the ethicist" was somewhat more tactful than that (I think he told her that she was exercising a sort of racism, but it was the preconceived attitudes sort rather than the virulent hatred sort). I don't think we had a Snow King or snowflakes in the Bakersfield production, so I can't speak on that point directly, but we did have an either black or biracial (I'm honestly not sure of her racial heritage) Sugar Plum Fairy, and no one seemed to mind that she wasn't purple. (Interesting but pointless side note: she later went on to date one of the housemates on an early season of The Real World, at which point I think she was a professional ballerina.) Regarding the offensively pigmented snow people, the ethicist pointed out that given that the "snowflakes" weren't made of frozen, crystaline water, the viewer was already being asked to suspend some level of disbelief, and that the woman just needed to learn to do a little better job of it. In some ways I feel for the woman, because clearly she places a high value on the continuity and sameness that the tradition of The Nutcracker represents to her, and I don't think there's anything inherently bad about that. But there's only so much continuity and sameness that a constantly-changing society can (or should, I think) maintain. And seriously, do "white" people really look that much more like snow? Wouldn't you really need to slap some white makeup on someone of any race to make them look like snow?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

post-semester blahishness

Well, I've conquered another semester. I suppose you could say I have smitten it (not that smiting two classes is the hardest thing in the world). I'm still working on grading (which doesn't count, because it's my job, not school), and even though my econometrics paper is done and turned in, I'm still very much thinking about it because it's just one of the many continuing steps in the process of writing my thesis. But given that I generally like my thesis project, I'm not annoyed by the lack of closure.

Speaking of my thesis, I got a bit of indirect good news. First of all, I'm not sure if I've explained this before, but we're using a somewhat novel technique to create our dataset. We administered surveys only once to a variety of individuals, which normally yields a cross-sectional data set: many observations (borrowers) compared to each other at a single point in time. This is in contrast to time-series data, which is a single observation (say, a country) examined over multiple periods of time. If you collect information about multiple individuals (or countries or whatever) at multiple time periods, then you have panel data--it is both cross-sectional and longitudinal. What we have created is what's called a back-cast panel: we asked borrowers about things that happened in the past and when they happened, and used this information to construct panel data (i.e. in 2004 this household acquired a TV). We will also be creating "lag" variables, which allow us to look at a particular window of time before and after a borrower first got access to microcredit to see how likely they were to have, say, purchased a business asset during that time period. I won't go into the monotony of explaining how the lag variables work, but I will say that you end up with neat line graphs that show, hopefully, something like a big spike in the number of people acquiring productive assets 2 years after they first got credit, or something like that. Not only do you see if credit is effective, but you see if its effects are immediate or if they take a while to kick in.

Back to the sort of good news. This technique was suggested to us (okay, it was basically forced on us, but I don't have any better ideas so I'm not complaining) by my advisor. He and a colleague at UCSD just wrote a paper using the same technique on data collected by a guy that graduated from the IDEC program last year. The paper tied for first place in an impact assessment contest sponsored by USAID, which has been promoting research related to microfinance in the last several years. The people who gave the award described the paper as being "notable for its innovative use of recall data of highly memorable events to create a methodologically rigorous impact assessment approach that holds significant potential for widespread applicability." The reason that this is good news for me is that it will lend the glow of legitimacy and rigor to my own paper. The technique is new enough to still be interesting and novel, but it has also gained some acceptance in the field of microfinance impact analysis.

I was supposed to go to a party tonight, but I've been rather moody and antisocial all weekend. Last night I was mired in one of those feeling-sorry-for-myself places, but at the moment I'm feeling content to be at home and feel a bit on the gloomy side; after all, I could be doing something more "fun" if I wanted to, but I'm not, so evidently I don't really want to have fun right now. I also don't feel very much like drinking, which I would probably end up doing at the party.

Maybe I'll take a bath. I bought some French chamomile soap at this little co-op in SoMa (I guess it's in SoMa...that area confuses me endlessly) called Rainbow Grocery. The soap smells really good, and it has little slivers of what I assume is chamomile in it, so it's mildly exfoliating. I walked to Rainbow from downtown on Wednesday, I think, which was fun because I got to explore the SoMa/Mission area a bit (in the rain, but that's okay). I saw an X-rated cake bakery, a revolutionary socialist bookstore, and what I assume was a bar of some sort. The bar didn't have a sign, but instead it had a life-sized leopard-spotted cow statue hanging above the entrance. Anyway, Rainbow Grocery was like an independent hippie version of Whole Foods (or I guess I should say that Whole Foods is a slick, yuppie version of places like Rainbow). Just before going there, I happened to read an article in The Economist critiquing the environmental benefits of organic foods, which made looking at all the organic shampoos and stuff even more interesting. But I did buy some organic soup and organic pita bread anyway.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

i have to stop googling words

It's causing me to inadvertently stumble upon websites that eat away at my faith in humanity.

Unfortunate Discovery #1:

I was working on a NYT crossword puzzle (I am addicted to these things). If I get really stuck, I use Google or Wikipedia to help me find answers. I also use to double-check spellings (normally my spelling, as you know, is excellent, but something about the little boxes gets me all muddled, especially about vowels and double consonants). Anyway, I had Google open because I'd used it to find out the first name of the dude that invented the Geiger counter (Hans), and I needed to check the spelling of "alibi" (for some reason I thought it might be "alabi"). So I googled it, since the website was already up. I discovered that I was spelling it correctly, and I also discovered this website. Go look at it. (It's not porn or anything else socially inappropriate, but it may not be a great idea to look at it on your work computer.) Tell me you're not totally horrified.

Unfortunate Discovery #2:

DWE and I got into a little debate on the phone this evening regarding whether "smitten" was a form of the word "smite" (for some reason I didn't think it was, but it is). So I tried to go to to check, but for some reason my browser wouldn't open the page, so I resorted to Google again. That's when I discovered the product being advertised on this website. Again, not porn, and not socially inappropriate in the "widely-understood definition of the term" (sorry...X-Files quote), but it may deeply disgust you. It deeply disgusted me. It made me never want to hold hands with anyone again.

I think I'm going to go to bed now, and hope that the world seems less disturbing tomorrow.

Oh, and do any of you have an opinion about that whole smite/smitten thing? I'm not debating that "smitten" is an adjective form of the verb "smite", of course, but I'm very curious about how a verb that means (and I'm paraphrasing heavily here) "to hit someone really hard with something big like a hammer" begat an adjective that came over the years to mean "adoring in an intense and probably obnoxiously cute way." It's not that I can't see the logical progression, it's just that it seems totally bizarre. Any thoughts? (I'm looking at you, N.)

el numero incorrecto

I'm sort of distressed that its Tuesday already. On Sunday, I returned from a very enjoyable weekend in Portland. I'm not really sure what I did yesterday. I unpacked, I slept a lot, I cleaned my apartment a little, I caught up on a few emails, I did some reading, I did a few crossword puzzles, I talked to one or two people on the phone...It's hard to believe that stuff takes a whole day. I guess I also watched about a half dozen episodes of the Simpsons on DVD. My gastrointestinal issues persist, although in a milder form, so I've been trying to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and dairy since I got back. Caffeine and alcohol, no problem. Dairy has been more problematic. I made it until about 5 p.m. today, and then I broke down and had a bowl of cereal. I still feel okay, though, so I'm hoping if I keep eating mostly bananas and rice for the next few days, I'll be fine, regardless of my inability to resist milk.

Today I've been grading, working on the econ picture board (no, I still don't have that damn thing done), and even doing a little research on the internet about jobs/interships for when I graduate (ugh...someone shoot me). It's supposed to rain all week, and today it was both rainy and foggy, a phenomenon that continues to baffle me. A good week to be inside with my laptop or a stack of micro finals, I suppose.

So, DWE and I had the craziest coincidence of schedules at the Oakland Airport. On Thursday, his flight to Vegas left at almost exactly the same time as my flight to Portland, so we took BART to Oakland together. He came back to SF on Saturday, and then left again on Sunday for San Diego. My flight arrived in Oakland at 4:30 p.m., and his left at 5:30 p.m. So he was actually able to check in, clear security, and meet me at my gate when I arrived, which was surreal (remember when anyone could meet you at your gate?). Then we hung out by his gate until his flight left. Maybe I'm just looking for a good way to spin it, but it makes me feel like such an exciting jetsetter to be catching 45 minutes of quality time with my man in an airport before we have to rush back off to our important lives (except all I did was go home and take a bath, which was important to me, and probably to anyone who had to smell me, but not really all that exciting).

I just got a call on my cell from a number that I didn't recognize with a 661 (Bakersfield) area code. I didn't answer, because I assumed, correctly, that it was a wrong number. The interesting part is that the person left a voicemail in Spanish. He spoke too quickly for me to understand much, but he said he had some questions and left his number. I wonder if I should call back and tell him that he got the wrong number. Do I even know how to say "wrong number" in Spanish? "numero incorrecto", I guess (it sounds like Spanglish, but I swear that's what it would be).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

almost done

Gee, for a while there, my life was almost as busy as a normal person's. Whew, glad that's over.

Well, okay, I'm engaging in a bit of hyperbole here (shocker!). My international seminar paper, which is completed and turned in, probably took me longer to write than any previous 20-ish page paper I've written. The section detailing the debate over what will happen to the Chinese economy if they significantly revalue the yuan was fairly technical, so I had to spend a lot of time rereading sections of journal articles and carefully wording my arguments (Prof. A has excellent attention to detail and he is one of those professors who appears to know EVERYTHING). It was and interesting topic, though, and it was (mostly) fun to work really hard on something fairly challenging.

Meanwhile, I did both some student tutoring and some grading in my capacity as TA, which was a nice diversion from the paper insofar as the tutoring confirmed that I really do remember how to do 2-firm strategic interdependence oligopoly game theory, and the grading gave me something to do when circumstances forced DWE to cancel on me for Sunday night at the last minute (it's a long story, but the salient point is that he left his car and apartment keys in Pennsylvania--I'd be more annoyed, but people in glass houses, etc--although, I haven't left my keys in another city since college, and I don't believe I've ever left them in another state).

So now all I have left is my econometrics paper and some grading. I played around with my regression model some more today, I checked for endogeneity problems (there aren't any, according to the data, but given that theoretically there probably should be, I find the lack of them equally distressing). I had hopes of writing my paper before I left for Portland on Thursday, but that's seeming less likely, given that I'm not highly motivated to work on it tonight, and tomorrow I have class and then a grad school function afterwards. I have more or less all the parts I need in terms of doing the econometrics, I just have to pick a final model, pull everything together, make it look pretty, and write up explanations and interpretations. It's not due until the 15th, so I'll have plenty of time when I get back, but it would be nice to have it out of the way.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

news flash: the republicans suck too

After the election, I (and a bunch of people in the media) spent some time dissing the Democrats for their attitudes toward and misperceptions regarding international trade. It seems only fair to acknowledge that the Republicans haven't been doing much better, a point which is well articulated in this Slate article. As the article points* out, the Democrats, at least, seem to approach the trade issue as one of economic inequality and insecurity--which in many ways it certainly is--and they seem more willing to promote policies that will address those aspects of the issue (although I don't think it's fair to say that the Republicans are totally unwilling...they just seem to have stupider ideas in that department).

Which is not to say that the Democrats' ideas are great, or that there are a plethora of simple, effective ideas out there that will keep globalization and other forms of economic change from destroying the livelihoods of some people. Most of the ideas that are out there are hard to implement or don't work very well. For example, in one of his comments, N described the way in which the economy in Buffalo, NY, was decimated by deindustrialization. A not-insignificant portion of the problem there is that Buffalo's economy was dependent on a relatively small number of industries. But while it's easy to argue that economic diversification would benefit cities and regions by partially insulating them from market changes, the reality is that I can name ten reasons (well, maybe not ten, but a lot) why the market, as it tends to function in most sectors, promotes specialization of the sort that leads to, say, all the jobs in Detroit being in the auto industry. This is actually just an example of a very basic economic idea: there is very, very often an inherent trade-off between efficiency and equality, and it's usually pretty difficult to pinpoint the optimal mix of the two, let alone make decisions and promote policies that will effectively produce that mix.

Gee, I feel great about my chosen profession right now.

But Jenn, shouldn't you be working on your paper instead of bemoaning the basic nature of capitalism? Why yes, I should be.

*Style note: yes, I noticed the clunky repetition of the word "point". The paper I'm writing is one of those that lends itself to repetition of words and phrases, and I've been driving myself nuts trying to deal with it, so I'm letting it go here.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Sorry for my absence. I know you're all devastated when I don't post. =) The combination of having a lot of school work to do and not feeling particularly communicative were the causes of my little eight-day hiatus.

I'm in full end-of-semester mode, which isn't so bad when one is only taking two classes. I'm also experiencing an unusual level of motivation, coming primarily, I think, from my intense urge to just be done with everything. It's kind of odd. For example, we have one more problem set due in Applied Econometrics. We already took the quiz on the problem set material (endogeneity and instrumental variables...woo hoo...), and we're all totally focused on tweaking and testing our models for our thesis data, so the problem set seems very annoying. Normally when I'm dreading doing something, I put it off, but for some reason this morning I thought to myself, "I can't stand having this dumb problem set hanging over my head for another day." So I worked on it for a few hours and got about three-fourths of it done. Then I emailed it to H, M, and E (we do the problem sets in groups, and they are my group) and told them that they could finish it and that I never wanted to see it again. I've also been pretty good about staying on my paper-writing schedule. I have a 20-30 page paper due on Monday evening (the one on China's foreign currency reserves and current account surplus), and I'm aiming for it to be 20 pages of pure text, plus graphs and bibliography. I'm also aiming to finish it by Sunday afternoon, since in theory DWE gets back to town on Sunday night. My plan was to have written ten pages by today, and I've got eight, which is much closer than I normally come to goals of that sort. I've dedicated a lot of time to the paper, but a lot of it has been spent making graphs, combing the internet for random little bits of data that I need, and trying to decide on how to organize the sections. I've been worried that it's going to be too short, but I found another article tonight that directly counters one of the other articles that I'm using, which should significantly lengthen (and hopefully improve) the section in which I discuss whether it would be wise for China to revalue the yuan. Ideally I'd like to get up to 15 pages by tomorrow, but we'll see how it goes.

I'm kind of dull when I'm in end-of-semester mode, huh? I feel dull, anyway. I think I'm just tired. Which probably means I should go to bed, since it's nearly one a.m. My sleep schedule has been a bit more "normal" lately (except for last night, when S and I stayed up until 3 a.m. with each other on speakerphone, both working on our respective tasks while carrying on some vague, sporadic semblance of a conversation). I generally prefer getting up around 8 or 9 (yes I know that's very late for many of you), especially in the winter (if I wake up at noon I only get five hours of daylight).

Blog Archive