Saturday, February 24, 2007
So, one annoying thing about being sick while I was in Bako was that I didn't get to properly enjoy the suburban splendor. No shopping trip to Target, no casual family dining, no traversing of vast parking lots. But last night, DWE and I met up, and we started driving south. "Where are we going?" I asked. "I need to buy a new razor. I dropped mine and broke it yesterday," he said. DWE hates chain stores, but as he observed, there aren't that many places to buy a razor at 8:30 p.m. that aren't chain stores, so we went to Target. I was, of course, delighted. I don't have access to a car and Target at the same time very often. So I got a big red pot and some potting soil, which I used this morning to re-pot the Peace Lily that B gave me a year ago when my dad died (despite how neglectful of a plant-mom I am, it is doing quite well, and will probably be much happier now that its roots can spread out). I also stocked up on toiletries and got a cardigan and a pair of jeans. DWE is baffled and mildly disturbed by my tendency to impulse shop and to be convinced that I "need" things like a travel case for Q-tips. He observed that "when I get my job at Goldman Sachs" (we have a running joke about me working at Goldman Sachs and supporting him) I'll shop like I do at Target, except I'll do it at Nordstrom's. I pointed out to him that that's the precise reason I don't really want to work at Goldman Sachs or anyplace else that would pay me a shit-ton of money (also, I probably don't want to do any of the jobs at Goldman Sachs, but that's another matter).
We hadn't had dinner yet, and since we were out in the suburbs, DWE busted out the entertainment book (the book with all the coupons in it) that he'd gotten for free (his company is thinking about advertising in the entertainment book, so they sent him a free sample...he's probably not supposed to be using the coupons in it). He came across the coupons for TGI Friday's, and I suddenly remembered that I'd seen a commercial for TGI Friday's while I was sick, and they were advertising something called "Crispy Green Bean Fries", which is exactly what it sounds like: breaded, deep-fried green beans. I love green beans, and I love deep fried things, and the commercial had made an indelible imprint on my fever-adled subconscious, so I immediately started lobbying for us to go to TGI Friday's.
Long story short: the Crispy Green Bean Fries did not disappoint (although I eschewed the wasabi ranch that they came with for regular ranch), but I did feel a bit of deep-fried-food-eater's remorse afterwards (they're probably better consumed in small quantities as an appetizer rather than as one's meal). I was marveling over the fact that it had taken someone so long to come up with the idea of deep-frying green beans when DWE characteristically responded that someone probably did think of it, but since they didn't work at one of the major chain restaurants that largely dominate the dining landscape, I'd been denied the experience. He's got a point, but I just can't work up his level of distaste for national chains. They're homogenous, they're culturally oppressive, they're frequently unattractive, but they're deeply comforting, not to mention convenient and usually affordable. I respect people like DWE who spend a minimum amount of time complaining about them and a maximum amount of time avoiding them, without being nazi-ish about it. I also respect people who like chains, frequent them, and understand and are willing to live with the consequences of them. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle.
Well, I need to get a little homework done before I head out to meet the econ kids for a couple drinks. I think I'll do the Econometrics problem set (i.e. the problem set for the class I'm TAing). If I do the homework then I'm able to help people with it more easily, and it's always more fun to do someone else's homework than my own.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Anyway, I'm doing much better now; still achey and coughing up plenty of grossness, but my fever is totally gone, my sinuses are much clearer, and my energy is rebounding. Hopefully in a couple of days I will be back to normal. Being sick really put me behind in terms of schoolwork (which is particularly annoying because the plan for this weekend was to get ahead a little bit), but hopefully this means that I won't get sick again until after I graduate.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The happy news is that last night I finished marking all but one thing off of my long to-do list. Most notably, I finally got that email sent to IMED giving them a summary of our data and our early findings, and asking them for the info we need. It took a lot longer than I thought it would to get the whole thing prepared and written, but we really need the information that we're asking them for (when credit was first available from IMED in each area where we surveyed groups), so I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to give us the information as quickly as possible. I discovered that we still have the addresses of most of the group meetings, so I typed the addresses onto our list of groups (even though IMED obviously has that information, hopefully that will eliminate a step for them). I have other thesis related stuff I could be doing (like looking for literature that's been published since I wrote my lit review or that I just missed last time I did research), but this does make me feel like I can not obsessively think/worry about it for a little while.
Okay, I have to go curl up in a ball under a blanket for a while.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I turned in my first Macro problem set tonight. It was quite time consuming and moderately difficult, but it did get me a bit more engaged in the material, which is a good thing. I'm not a big fan of macroeconomics (with the exception of international finance), and I haven't been paying much attention in class so far. We're studying the Solow (pronounced like "solo") growth model, which is probably the most famous and influential model for economic growth. I've learned the basics of the Solow model in at least three previous courses, but the iteration that we're learning now goes beyond what I've learned previously in terms of specificity and mathematical rigor. Without giving you one of my delightful econ lessons, I will summarize the Solow model this way: it is a simple (and I use that term relatively), highly abstract model that predicts that nations will converge to a "steady state" level of GDP growth in which capital intensity per worker and per capita GDP remain constant. It dates back to the 1960s (I love how young economics is as a science...less than 50 years ago we didn't even have a coherent theory of economic growth!), and has been widely empirically tested and theoretically built upon.
Where I'm going with this is that there's a first-year IDEC student who has made a couple of comments in class, one of which bordered on outright rudeness toward the professor, expressing his irritation that we have to learn the Solow model (or at least that it's being taught as something that might have a modicum of validity). He is of the opinion that the model has been essentially proven to have no basis in reality (which isn't true...there's plenty of empirical evidence that more complex and conditional versions of the model have validity, and there's a lively debate on the subject). Tonight in class the professor was talking about one of the central assumptions of the Solow model and why it's unlikely to be true, and he mentioned that later models reverse this assumption. The anti-Solow guy asked why we have to wait so long to learn those later models. "Are they based on the Solow model?" he asked, as though the thought hadn't occurred to him until that moment. Well, duh, of course they're based on the Solow model. Did he miss the part about how important and influential the model is? And if he disagrees with the theory of convergence so strongly, he should be, in my opinion, eager to learn as much as he can about the Solow model, because, to use highly scholarly language, you can't debunk shit that you don't understand.
I don't know why I even care what this guy thinks about the Solow model, especially when my level of interest in macro is so low. I guess economics has done a pretty good job of indoctrinating me with the idea that there's great value in mastering mathematically elegant, highly abstract economic theory as a precursor to going out and understanding the messy, inelegant economic world (not to mention the fact that my BA in history indoctrinated me with the idea that there's great value in learning the intellectual history of something). And this guy seems to feign a sort of intellectual engagement (as evinced by his empirical objections to the model) when in fact he just seems sort of lazy (he left class at the break...don't get me wrong, I would have liked to leave at the break too, but I didn't, and I also don't heckle the professor). In my non-academic interactions with him he seems like a nice guy, so I should probably stop criticizing him now...I'm sure he's just young and cocky, and haven't we all been there?
Amusing bus stop anecdote: I was waiting for the 5 after class tonight, sitting on the bench in the bus shelter, playing Tetris on my cell phone. A guy arrived at the bus stop and immediately started talking to me, despite the fact that I was deeply engrossed in my phone. After saying "Hi, how are you?" and barely getting an audible response from me, he started into this diatribe about how "human beings can't be trusted" and will take advantage of one another any chance they get. Random chatty bus people generally just annoy or amuse me, but this guy freaked me out a little. It was dark, no one else was around, and his line of conversation was so insistent and apropos of nothing apparent that I started to wonder if he was going to say "human beings can't be trusted, which explains why I'm going to rape you and leave you for dead." (I know, I watch too many procedural crime dramas.) So I stopped playing Tetris and sent a terse text to DWE: "Call me right now." DWE didn't respond, probably because his phone was off or not working (his phone has issues) or perhaps he was in the middle of some work thing instead of being at my beck and call (I know, what is he thinking?). Fortunately, the creepy guy's cell rang, so once he was on the phone I quickly called my mother.
So here's the amusing part: In addition to feeling mildly freaked out, I was also feeling guilty about making virtually no effort to respond to this guy's attempts to converse with me. I thought to myself that perhaps he was just a nice, socially awkward guy who'd had a recent bad experience, and here I was silently reinforcing his idea that people aren't nice to each other. Then I overheard the beginning of his phone conversation. I got from the context that he was speaking to a potential love interest (I'll assume based on his demeanor and statistical odds that the love interest was female), and I distinctly heard him say to her, "I'm in East Oakland right now...yeah, East Oakland. I told you I live in East Oakland, didn't I?" (I remind you that he was in fact in what I would generally describe as inner-West San Francisco.) No wonder he was so certain that human beings can't be trusted.
One reason I haven't been blogging much lately is that I feel like my recent entries have been almost unbearably prosaic (or would be if I wrote more of them). I'm not sure if this is an improvement or not. I'm also not sure why I care. I guess I don't want to be one of those people who thinks that absolutely anything she thinks or does is of interest to others.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
The good news is that I can still do ten-key by touch while in lump form, and as a result I finished making the necessary revisions and additions to our data. I would say that the data is finally complete, but that's not true, because we still need info from IMED on when each area first had access to credit. But the data is really, really close to being complete. It was good that I went back through each survey, because I caught a couple of data entry errors that I had made, and I was able to make sure that information was interpreted and entered in a uniform way by E, M, and me. As I'm sure I've mentioned at least once, our data consist of 420 borrowers, with a time span of anywhere between 2 and 15 years (depending on age) for each borrower, giving us a total of 5450 observations (an "observation" is a single borrower in a single year). For each observation there are 34 variables, which doesn't include E's child schooling variables (of which there are 3 for every school-aged child in the household) or the variables that identify year, borrower, and borrower group. The point is, it's a lot of numbers in little boxes, and there's still a tiny part of me that's like, "dude, when did I become the kind of person who puts numbers in boxes and manipulates them mathematically?" But clearly I've been (or been becoming) that person for a while, so it's just about time to get over it.
I decided to visit Bakersfield over President's day weekend, which works nicely because I'll have an even longer weekend than normal and Amtrak seems immune to holiday weekend price hikes. I'll need to work on my thesis while I'm home, but it's a chance to see the fam and an inexpensive change of scenery.
And now I'm going to go be lumpy somewhere outside of my apartment before it gets totally dark.
Monday, February 05, 2007
I probably shouldn't have chosen 1:30 a.m. as the time to start this post. It probably won't be very spectacular, since I'm getting sleepy already. But I'll give you a quick rundown of my weekend, and then a few more Belize pics.
I got quite a bit of work done on our data (entering the last couple surveys, compiling the data that each of us enetered into a single spreadsheet with consistent formatting, making some of the changes recommended by my advisor, etc). I wish I could say that it's finished, but I have to go back and add some dummy variables for type of business, and I have to correct some inconsistencies in how I entered what year certain things happened, because I realized that somewhere along the line I changed the way I was doing it. I'm hoping all that can be completed in another day or two. I finally did laundry and some other random chores, and I worked on my macro reading, so all in all it was a reasonably productive couple of days.
I dragged the still-jetlagged and majorly stressed DWE out on Friday and Saturday night to hang with my school peeps. Friday was just drinks at the Pig and Whistle, but Saturday we went to a salsa club. DWE is very unenthusiastic about participating in dance that involves specific steps (as opposed to, say, just gettin' down with one's bad self, which he doesn't seem to love but is at least willing to do in the right context and with some mild coaxing). The husband of one of my dear classmates taught me to salsa. It's not terribly hard, and he was a very good teacher, but it takes some getting used to. I also danced with JSOC for a little bit; he loves to salsa and was out on the dance floor all night. I ran into a friend that graduated from IDEC last year; I didn't even know she was still in town, and it turns out that she works two blocks from where I live, which is neat. It was really good to catch up with her a bit.
I hung out with DWE for a while tonight, but due in large part to his work-induced stress (there are major changes/expansions/challenges/etc happening in his company right now, and much of the responsibility for making things happen falls on his shoulders), he's increasingly needing time to himself. Sometimes it is disappointing, because he's out of town so often that when he's here I want to see him as much as I can. On the other hand, his need for alone time is completely understandable (especially since his job, particularly while he's out of town, very often has a social component that takes up many of his evenings). And tonight, for example, I didn't even really mind that he didn't come over. I've become increasingly greedy about my own alone time, and I'm feeling a lot of urgency about working on my data, especially since I found out yesterday that I will indeed be presenting my research at the Pacific Development Conference (as will three of my fellow IDECers and two of the department's professors, including my advisor).
Enough about school and stress and all that. Let's pretend I'm back in Belize instead:
"Go Slow": The island's ubiquitous motto.
This is the guest house where we stayed. Our room was on the top floor, left hand side. From the patio, you looked out onto the ocean to the east, but if you walked to the right side and leaned over the railing just a touch, you could also look at the ocean to the west. Very weird being on such a skinny strip of land.
This is just sort of a typical island view: palm trees, a pier, really blue water, and a bit of a charming, worn, windswept feel to everything.
This is Leo, a little kitten that DWE befriended on the beach while I was scattering the little bit of my dad's ashes that I brought (as is my new travel custom). The kitten followed DWE over to me and he (DWE, not the cat) said, "This is Leo." I asked DWE how he knew the cat's name, since he wasn't wearing a collar. DWE had just made the name up. Anyway, Leo was adorable, and he climbed right in my lap and loved all over me, and was not creepy and flea-infested like the cats in India. I wanted desperately to smuggle him back to the US in my suitcase.
Leo loved DWE too (although not as much as me), but he (Leo, that is) was sort of done posing for pictures by the time I took this one. DWE wore that stupid hat all weekend, because he needed a haircut and thought his hair looked "poofy".