Wednesday, January 31, 2007

venting a little anxiety

I spent an hour and a half on the phone with my advisor yesterday (you'll recall that he's on sabbatical in Santa Barbara, so I can't just go to his office) talking about my thesis. The conversation was in general positive, helpful, and even a bit comforting, but I'm feeling totally overwhelmed by how much work I need to do before the development conference on March 17th. I submitted my paper title and abstract to the conference chairs today; there is some chance that they won't accept my paper for the conference, but based on what I know, that's fairly unlikely (not because I'm fabulous, but rather because they are generally not overwhelmed by potential presenters, and I think they like to have students present). So between now and then I need to pry some additional information out of IMED, which means that I have to give them some kind of summary of our findings, which they've been bugging us for. The problem is that there's so much data and we don't have much in the way of coherent results at the moment, so I'm not entirely sure what to give them. I guess just some descriptive statistics (this percentage of people that we surveyed bought a TV since they got credit, etc), but coming up with that stuff will actually probably be a lot of work, and I'm not entirely sure how to do it either in Excel or Stata (partly because I don't know those programs as well as I should, and partly because it's tricky to do stuff like that with panel data). Anyway, I also have to go back through every survey and add some more variables and make some changes to existing variables. And then I have to run a bunch of econometric estimations and tests that I only sort of understand. And then after that I have to run my regression model in a bunch of different ways, and make neat little graphs to go with everything.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining. I'm actually feeling very enthusiastic about my thesis at the moment. I don't mind doing the work, I just wish I felt like I knew what I was doing a little more. But I suppose the point of school is that you don't know what you're doing and then you learn. I keep forgetting about that.

The good news is that I'm staying on top of my regular schoolwork pretty well (which is not, you know, super-difficult when one is only taking two classes, but still), so I can spend some serious time focused on my thesis without too much other stuff hanging over my head. The fact that I am attending five classes total (the two I'm enrolled in, the two I'm auditing, and Undergrad Econometrics, which I'm TAing) is actually in some ways helpful, because I can multitask during the three I'm not being graded on, and I'm on campus a lot, which encourages me to work in the time between classes.

Okay, I need to get to bed. Probably by Thursday or Friday I'll have a chance to post some more Belize pictures and tell ya'll more about the trip.

Friday, January 26, 2007

"gay" bands

DWE saw a link to this website on a political blog, and it's bizarre enough that we're not entirely convinced that it isn't a spoof. If it isn't, it's equal parts disturbing and funny. Disturbing 'cause, you know, God hates queers, pop culture makes you gay, etc. Funny because of the lists of "safe music" and "gay music" (aka "music to watch out for"). I'll leave you to discover and enjoy the amusing and eclectic collection of "gay" music for yourself, and comment on just two things:

One, why is Cyndi Lauper filed among the more or less "Christian" bands as "safe"? Because let me tell you, sister, when I saw Cher in concert (yes, I saw Cher in concert...laugh all you want, but it was, as promised, the Cherest Show on Earth), Cyndi opened for her (she was excellent, by the way) and when she sang "True Colors" she brought a big ol' rainbow flag on stage and waved it around, much to the delight of the audience, which was probably 75% gay guys.

The second thing is the one that got me riled up enough to write this blog entry. One of the people on the "gay music" list is Clay Aiken. I am aware that Clay has many stereotypically "gay" mannerisms and that it is widely speculated that he is gay. However, unless I've missed something, he continues to deny that he is gay, and as you know, I don't believe that someone is gay unless they say they are, no matter how much of a homo they act like. Furthermore, Clay professes beliefs and opinions consistent with fairly conservative Christianity, including a belief that homosexuality is wrong (although he seems to take a generally tolerant, loving stance toward all people, unlike this website).

Even if Clay is gay, he's chosen either to hide it, or to live as a straight/abstinent person. If the latter is true, that's his choice, based on his beliefs, and no one has the right to call him gay or tell him to behave otherwise. He has every right to act in accordance with his beliefs, and for this supposedly "Christian" website to label his music as somehow "dangerous" because of the Hollywood gossip mill or the fact that he flat-irons his hair is totally dispicable. Clay's music and public statements generally promote values that many people identifying as "Christian" would support, and the fact that this stupid, mindless website would implicitly attack the sincerity of Clay's faith in such a careless and utterly baseless way is totally disgusting to me. (Yes, the whole website is disgusting to me, and much of the rest of the list seems largely careless and illogical, but for some reason the Clay thing really sticks in my craw.)


First, a confession: like the tacky, unrepentant American tourist that I am, I bought a t-shirt at the airport that says "unbelizeable" on it. Usually puns bug the crap out of me, but that one cracks me up. At least I didn't get the one that says "You better Belize it" on it.

As I may have mentioned, we stayed on a tiny island named Caye (pronounced like "key") Caulker (apparently the name derives from the caulking they used to use to seal, do the British suck at naming stuff). It is very touristy insofar as tourism is essentially the only industry (other than a little fishing, what else can you do on an island a couple miles long, less than a mile wide, and in the middle of a gorgeous ocean?). It is very untouristy, however, insofar as virtually all of the places to stay, eat, etc. are all unpretentious, rough-around-the-edges, casual little mom-and-pop places. No chains, no huge hotels, no golf courses or swimming pools or other resort-y trappings. Very mellow and cool.

Our initial intention was to take a taxi from the Belize airport to the dock where the water taxi (i.e. boat) departs for Caye Caulker and Ambergris Island, a larger, more built-up island centered around the decently-sized town of San Pedro. (Fun trivia fact: remember "La Isla Bonita" by Madonna? "Last night I dreamt of San Pedro"? That song is about Ambergris Island.) However, we discovered once we got on the ground (actually, DWE saw it from the plane, but we confirmed it once we were on the ground) that the road from the airport was washed out, so it might have taken us hours to get to the water taxi dock. So instead we decided to fly to Caye Caulker. It's a ten minute or so flight on a teeny little winged deathtrap run by a teeny little domestic airline named Mayan Air (random thing that cracked me up: there is another either domestic or Central American airline flying out of Belize called "Taca Air", but every time I looked at the sign I thought it said "Taco Air").

Anyway, there are lots of pictures to show you, and lots of stories to tell, but I'll start in this entry with the pictures I took from the plane.

Some other, undeveloped islands. The dark parts of the water are where there is seaweed growing. The water is very shallow.

More islands and stuff out my window.

DWE, being cute but not very comforting as I worry about our tiny plane crashing and killing us.

This is Caye Caulker. The island was split in half by a hurricane (or at least that's how the story goes...apparently that might not be true) and the half to the left is the one where all the stuff is (obviously). The airstrip is on the very far left end of the island (just out of the frame) and it takes maybe twenty minutes to walk from there to the Split (as they call the place where the two parts are, well, split).

Look how tiny the plane is! We were in the second-to-last row.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

...and we're back

Hi kids. It's been a busy 2ish weeks since my last post. First I finished up entering the rest of my surveys, which was dull but went pretty quickly. Then there were the several days of hiding in my apartment and moping leading up to the 17th, which was the 1-year anniversary of my dad's death. The day itself wasn't too bad, and I went out with friends that night and repeatedly toasted my dad (i.e. drank a lot), which was nice. Then it was a flurry of chores and packing and stuff before DWE and I went off to Belize, which was utterly fabulous. There will be many stories and pictures to come. School started for me yesterday, so I'm rapidly getting wrapped up in that again.

I had my first Macro class last night, and it promises to be probably about as interesting as macro can be, which is to say not incredibly interesting but not mind numbingly dull, either. The professor is I think just about exactly my age, but he seems intelligent and enthusiastic about what he is teaching. Tonight I have Grad Seminar, the class where we essentially write our Master's thesis. I have no idea what to expect out of that class, except for the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the professor.

I realized recently that the deadline to register for and submit an abstract to the Pacific Development Conference is rapidly approaching (less than a week away). This is a one-day conference that I attended last year and I want to present my India research this year, but since we just finished entering our full data set (and actually I still have a handful of E's surveys to enter) I haven't run any regressions or gotten any results with the full data. I also haven't implemented the full methodology that my adviser wants me to use. It's not like I have to have my presentation ready by the registration deadline, but I do have to submit an abstract, which requires me to have a pretty good sense of my methodology and results. So I'll be spending the rest of the week and weekend working on that.

Special note to N: the quote on my myspace page "blurb" is from an episode of The Simpsons. Homer becomes the conducter of Springfield's new, faultily-constructed monorail, which was sold to them by a conman. The brakes fail and he can't stop the train, so Marge, who found the scientist in question while investigating faulty monorails sold to other cities, contacts Homer by two-way radio to offer him assistance in stopping the monorail. The reason I love the quote, in addition to the fact that I find it funny, is that despite the absurdity of the idea that Marge brought Batman to help, Homer has an unassailable point: Batman is a scientist. I'm a huge fan of that sort of bizarre but sound logic. Another excellent example is from the movie Office Space. The main character, Peter, is talking to his mullet-wearing, construction-working neighbor, Lawrence, and they have a conversation along these lines:

Peter: "What would you do if you had a million dollars?"
Lawrence: [deadly serious, and without missing a beat] "Two chicks at the same time."
P: "That's it? Two chicks at the same time?"
L: "Always wanted to try that, and I figure if I had a million bucks I could set that up. Chicks dig a dude with money."
P: "Well, not all chicks."
L: "Type of chicks that would double up on a dude like me do."

It's so true.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

68 down, 78 to go

I'm entering surveys like a madwoman now. I did 25 on Tuesday, 43 yesterday, and I'm going to see if I can do the last 78 today (yeah, it probably won't happen, but it's a nice fantasy).

Embarassing and annoying anecdote: I forgot that it was Wednesday yesterday and as a result I forgot to go the therapy. Embarassing because I don't know what day of the week it is. Annoying because I have to pay for a missed session anyway (and don't get reimbursed by insurance because I didn't actually go).

I hope the Portland contingent of my readership is staying warm on those 20-degree nights. DWE is currently in St. Helen's, insulating the water pipes in his house so that the water will actually stay hot between when it leaves the water heater and when it comes out of the shower head, which I'm sure his tenant would appreciate right about now. The overnight lows have been getting down into the 30s here, but I still have been sleeping with my windown halfway open (I'm telling you, that loft bed is like a freakin' oven). Friday it's supposed to get down to 31, so we'll see how that goes.

It's data entry time...

Monday, January 08, 2007

the not-so-cute couple

JSOC took some pictures when I dragged DWE to the Pig and Whistle last semester, and he just emailed them to me. It turns out that we're not the two most photogenic people in the world, but I'm foisting our somewhat homely cuteness upon y'all anyway.

Speaking of DWE, I found out something scandalous: he can't swim! He has a moderate and self-described "irrational" fear of the water (this all goes back to a traumatic swim lesson experience in the second grade, apparently). Having all sorts of irrational fears myself, I have neither the desire nor the standing to criticize this particular trait, especially since it sounds like he's willing to work on it. On the other hand, I'll probably end up snorkling by myself, or hopefully with some friendly strangers.

Me and DWE. If he were capable of looking at the camera, he would look quite handsome. That monkey on his shirt creeps me out, though.

Me looking terribly cute with JSOC, who was apparently pretending to be full of ennui.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

currency, howard dean, and amateur haircuts

The first week of 2007 has been about as unexciting as the last week of 2006 was. A little more quality time with DWE, a lot of sleeping, and a bit of productiveness. Today was the first day in at least a week that I didn't take a lengthy nap, so I'm hoping that my increasingly bizarre and inconvenient sleeping schedule will start to get back on track. I guess since I'm not in school it doesn't much matter when I sleep, but it's harder to get stuff done in the middle of the night, and when I sleep during the late afternoon and early evening it tends to isolate me from other people (which I haven't minded up until now, but am starting to mind more).

E, M, and I finalized the details for how the survey data should be entered and divied up the 350 or so remaining surveys, so I've started to work on that. At this point I'm just making the necessary changes and additions to the data that I entered last semester. I have one more chapter left in the increasingly boring financial markets book; for as many differences as there are between the markets for currency, money, bonds, equity, and derivatives, there are also quite a few similarities, so the book is starting to feel especially repetitive. (Yes, "currency" and "money" are different in this context--it's people trading one currency for another versus people engaging in short-term borrowing, which is sort of like buying and selling cash.)

I got together with school people on Thursday night, which was nice, especially since I hadn't seen several of them since before Christmas. I also managed to get a free cab ride home, since I shared a cab with this guy that insisted I didn't have to pay for my part of the ride because I'm a student. I met the guy at the bus stop, where JSOC and H were waiting with me (despite my repeated insistence that they should go home). I think maybe the guy who hailed the cab thought JSOC and H were some guys I'd picked up at a bar that were sort of harassing me, and that he was rescuing me from them, because when we got into the cab he said, "who were those guys?" I guess most of the intoxicated women he sees at bus stops late at night don't have a young Korean guy and a young Colombian guy with them (sucks to be those women...).

Okay, usually I try to be discreet about other people's business on this blog, but I just have to blab this one thing, because I'm all impressed and star-struck about it. Muffin's boyfriend-type-person took him to D.C. recently, where they had breakfast with Howard Dean! The boyfriend is total buds with Howard, and was his California campaign manager when Dean was running for President. Anyway, Muffin said Howard was really cool and nice and interesting to talk to.

While some people were meeting powerful politicians, I was at home watching The Simpsons and trimming my own hair. Yes, I know it sounds like a bad idea, but I think it worked out okay. I did the back by flipping my head upside down, and I even layered it a bit toward the front. I'm pretty broke until I get my student loan later this month, so I didn't want to pay for a haircut, but the split ends were making me crazy (it had been more than a year since my last cut, which is scandalous). I also dyed it a darker and more uniform brown. As far as I can tell it looks fine.

Okay, back to data entry.

Monday, January 01, 2007

happy new year

The last days of 2006 were mellow and sort of lazy ones for me; hence the lack of posting. I had a very nice Christmas in Bakersfield, complete with the requisite viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the consumption of huge amounts of Chex Mix. I had lunch with N while I was in Bako, which was lovely. I ended up taking the train back up to SF because United cancelled my return ticket, a fact which was not reflected on their website or their automated phone system (and I couldn't get through to a human because of the Denver airport closure). I raised my voice to two different United employees, and swore never to fly their airline again (it will be difficult to make good on this promise, because they are the only airline that flies direct from SF to Bakersfield, but I'm feeling indignant enough to be willing to put up with Amtrak).

My winter break has yet to acheive its desired level of productiveness. I'm almost done putting together a jigsaw puzzle that I got for Christmas, and I've spent a lot of time worrying about what I'm going to do after I graduate, which is time consuming if not actually productive. I'm plowing through a scintillating book on financial markets, so if anyone needs to know anything about options markets or bond yields, I'm your girl.

DWE has had a highly unusual stint of being-in-town-ness, so I've been spending a lot of time with him. We saw this crazy band that one of his coworkers is in (I'll blog about it more later; for now I'll just say that the band members wear scary-looking muppetish monster heads). The other day when the weather was nice we took a scenic drive down the 1 to San Jose (which I now know the way to, or at least the back way to), where we ran errands at Target and Home Depot like a suburban married couple. Creepy.

Our New Year's Eve was low-key but highly enjoyable; we went to a pub called Edinburgh Castle and saw a band that does early punk covers. They had a kind of hard cider that I'd never had before, Strongbow, on tap, and I enjoyed several pints of that.

One of my grad school buddies is having a little get-together this afternoon, so I need to get going to that. I hope everyone had a good New Year's Eve.

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