Speaking of research…

May 1, 2008

Speaking of research (see the last post), I have noticed lately that although I should not feel too busy or overburdened, I am finding that I have little time to do the things I feel that I need to do, so…

I am going to start tracking (writing down) everything that I do during the day and how much time it takes. Then I am going to take a look at what I am spending my time doing, prioritize, and adjust accordingly. There are already a few things that are obvious:

Work takes up the most time of each 24 hour period, with sleep coming in a close second. Beyond that, I have no idea where most of my time goes, but there are a few changes that I am going to make right now… For example, I am sure that I spend quite a bit of time camping in front of the TV, and I know that this is fairly low on my list of how I would like to spend my time… so for the next month, I am going to TRY not to watch TV… at all. I am not the kind of person that goes after these things in a “sort-of-kind-of” way (anyone who has witnessed my successful effort to give up soft drinks can attest), so I assume that I will: Not change my TV habits at all, OR: I am done with it completely. We’ll see how this goes.


What did you say you are researching?

May 1, 2008

***EDIT: After posting about silly research this morning, Mr. Dan Meyer, one of the authors of the “Sword Swallowing” study was kind enough to comment on the post (see “comments”). After reading over his response, I have to agree that any research that helps save lives is well worthwhile, and for that I sincerely commend him (although I must admit, any study titled “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects” is good for a laugh). No offense intended, Mr. Meyer, and keep up the good work! … BTW, isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent sword swallowing related injuries simply to not swallow swords?

While browsing the news headlines today I came across a pretty funny one…

The headline read: “Alcohol linked to aggression”.

Really? What a surprise…

After reading the article (found here: http://health.msn.com/health-topics/addiction/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100202148&GT1=31033) I discovered that someone ( a group of people, actually) took a sample of 12 people, got them hammered, and scanned their brains to find the effects of alcohol. The research was time consuming and relatively expensive. What was the result, you ask?

The result showed exactly what anyone who has ever been drunk could tell you from experience… alcohol makes you think about sex and violence.

Why do I care, you ask?

As a grad student, I am always interested by the research that ends up getting published… It seems that some “academicians” like to research things just for the sake of researching things.

As a matter of fact, there is now an award dedicated to stupid research. Known as the Ig Nobel Prize, the award is given to academicians engaged in the most idiotic research in their area for the year. I recommend you visit http://www.improbable.com and take a look at some of the winners.

Last year, the winners included such time wasting research efforts as “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects” in the area of Medicine, “Wrinkling of an Elastic Sheet Under Tension” in Physics (this was a study on why sheets wrinkle), and my personal favorite, “Effects of Backward Speech and Speaker Variability in Language Discrimination by Rats” in the area of Linguistics, which showed that rats cannot tell the difference between someone speaking Japanese backwards and Dutch backwards.

So the next time you start to think that a friend in grad school or the PhD down the street might be really intelligent, ask them what they are researching… the results may surprise you.


Lost in Translation

April 9, 2008

I try not to post about school too much… but I can’t help myself today.

Yesterday I had an exam in Multi-National Corporate Finance… yep, a whole class dedicated to making money by doing silly, ethically debatable little tricks internationally with money (in Finance, we call this “arbitrage”).

In any case, it was probably the most difficult exam I have taken in my whole life. It was mostly concerned with hedging against transaction, translation, and economic risk using forward contracts, options, money market hedges, interest rate swaps, and currency swaps. A brief example:

You are a U.S. based company who sold a piece of equipment to a company based in the U.K. for 100,000 pounds. The company in the U.K. has to pay in 365 days… you face the risk of the British currency (the pound) depreciating before they pay (if the exchange rate is $2/pound, they currently owe you $200,000… if the pound depreciates to $1.75/pound, then they are only paying you $175,000, a loss of $25,000). Since this is a possibility, you can mitigate the risk by entering a forward contract that locks you in to a price of $2/pound, or you can use the money market to hedge the risk. For example, if the interest rate in the U.S. is 8%, and the interest rate in the UK is 5%, you could borrow 95,238 British pounds from a U.K. bank (with interest, in one year you will owe the UK bank 100,000 pounds), exchange it into dollars at $2/pound to get $190,476, and then invest the $190,476 in the US at the US interest rate of 8% to get $205,714. When the UK company pays you, you would use the 100,000 pounds to repay the British bank. As you can see, this is not difficult, but can be confusing.

As with the first exam of the semester, I feel that I did very well on the quantitative problems, but I have no idea how I did on the multiple choice stuff.

Anyway, to get back to the point of the post, as I was sitting there trying to keep everything straight and figure out some difficult quantitative problems, the fire alarm went off… we went outside and waited until they gave the “all clear”. After about 5 more minutes, the alarm went off again… we went back outside for about 5 minutes, then they gave the all clear. Upon getting started again, the alarm went off… again. This time we relocated to another building and took the exam in the noisy college cafeteria (it was dinner time).

So there you have it… I took the most difficult exam of my life in a college cafeteria… proof that when it rains, it pours.


Lazy, lazy, lazy…

February 26, 2008

By now you have probably noticed that I hardly post anymore… I apologize. Here come the excuses:

1. My dog ate my keyboard.

2. I forgot I had a blog.

3. It is almost that time of the month (hey, if women can use this one, so can I, although I’m not sure what time of the month I would be referring to since I am a guy).

4. Barack Obama’s campaign is dependant on me not posting (hence why I am not posting).

5. Blogs have become very “trendy” and cliche… I am trendsetting by NOT maintaining a blog.

6. My coyote died (this probably only makes sense if you read “The Daily Coyote”).

7. Between writing research papers, case studies, and reading textbooks I simply have too much going on while taking six upper-level graduate classes to post as much as I would like to. < THE REAL REASON >

I hope to get back to the grind once things slow down a little. ‘Til then my posts will be sporadic, at best (kinda like intelligent thoughts from Hillary Clinton).


The True Value of Diversity

January 28, 2008

What is diversity?

I am 25 years old, fairly young, probably still very naive, and I have lived my entire life in northern Ohio. Anyone from the area can tell you that Ohio is not exactly the capital of diversity in any sense, and if anyone tries to tell you that it is they are either very sheltered or they are fooling themselves. Having grown up in an area where everyone is essentially ‘like’ you, recognizing the value of diversity can be a very, very challenging task.

Upon starting my first ‘corporate’ job (working for a fortune 100 company) a couple of years ago, I was quickly put through a week-long ‘diversity training program’ that was supposed to be designed to help all employees recognize and appreciate the ‘value’ of a diverse workforce. After the first day of the training, I was pretty disappointed to find out that the ‘diversity training program’ was actually nothing more than a ‘try to tolerate your neighbors and don’t make fun of anyone at work’ training program.

I have to admit that prior to beginning my graduate degree last year I thought that I knew what diversity was and why it was important. While growing up, I had friends from other races and ethnic backgrounds… so I knew what diversity was, right? When I began my graduate program I saw that diversity is something entirely different…

Do we need to take another look at how we view diversity?

The standard method of teaching diversity in the U.S. has remained unchanged for quite some time, and I think that it may be time that we re-examine our methods.

In most elementary schools, children are first introduced to the concept of diversity by teaching them through various ‘holiday traditions exercises’… in other words, the first exposure to learning about the value of diversity that many American children receive is learning that diversity means ‘jewish kids celebrate Hanukkah’, or that ‘some african cultures celebrate Kwanzaa’, etc… as children continue into middle and high school, this approach changes to more of a ‘tolerance-based’ approach, essentially focusing on the idea that we all inhabit this earth together, and that we need to accept each other’s differences in order to get along… is this what diversity is? Does learning about diversity and cultural differences have no value other than tolerance? We seem to be telling our children (from a very young age) “Sure, we are all different, and it makes things tough… Get over it.”

More disturbingly, there is a strong movement in schools to eliminate these ‘holiday celebrations’ altogether. Although they are going about teaching diversity the wrong way, some mention of it is better than none. Numerous lawsuits have been brought forth in the past few years aimed at removing from classrooms any acknowledgment of the cultural differences that makes us all unique. Evidently, teaching children that their friends may celebrate other holidays because they belong to another religion is infringing upon their rights… Would they truly be better off by ignoring the fact that not everyone believes the same things they do? Evidently some socially conservative whack-jobs think so (and I must admit, I am fairly socially conservative when it comes to religion).

The Right Way to Teach Diversity

When I began my graduate studies, I was for the first time in my life surrounded by (and forced to work in close proximity with) people from numerous other cultures. In a matter of days, I went from having no concept of what diversity truly is to working face-to-face on a daily basis with people from India, Nepal, Croatia, Nigeria, Ghana, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, etc…

The experience of working with (and learning from) people from so many different cultures and backgrounds has been truly priceless. I have developed numerous technical and analytical skills and have had many experiences in my studies that will benefit me as my career progresses, but none of them compare to the insight I have gained from working and studying with the international students. It has become very apparent to me that the true value of understanding diversity is not the ability to be tolerant of those around you… the true value lies in the diversity itself and is a result of the various life experiences, outlooks, beliefs, and cultural differences that each member of society brings to the table. If we can learn to appreciate the value of each individual’s unique set of knowledge and beliefs, then tolerance will be a simple consequence of respecting and valuing the ideas and thoughts of others. Rather than teaching tolerance in our schools and workplaces, we should teach the concept that when we may not have the right answer to whatever problem we are facing, someone from a different background may have a unique and valuable perspective.


Fed Funds? Discount Rate? Huh?

January 22, 2008

If you have looked at the news today, then you already know that the Federal Reserve announced that it is cutting the Federal Funds Rate from 4.25% to 3.5% and the Discount Rate (window) from 4.75% to 4%. As a matter of fact, you can’t visit yahoo.com, msn.com, cnn.com, or any major news TV station without seeing it, which made me wonder… how many people have the slightest idea what this means?

I’ve got to admit… until last year I had no idea what all of this government mumbo-jumbo meant either. Discount rates? Isn’t that what you get at Wal-Mart or Marc’s? Discount window? Isn’t that what that asshole on the info-mercial keeps trying to sell me at 2:30am?

This post is for anyone who is unsure of what the hell all of these terms mean. I by no means intend to cover all of the implications of this crap, but hopefully this will be insightful enough to make at least a little bit of sense.

The Federal Funds rate is simply the rate at which banks borrow money (funds) from other banks. In order to protect depositors (you and me) from banks lending all of our checking accounts and savings accounts out to other people (and hence us bouncing our checks), the Federal Reserve (the head-honcho bank) requires that banks keep a minimum amount of reserve funds at the Federal Reserve (currently 10%). So here is the deal:

If the bank wants to make a loan but doesn’t have enough reserves without going below their reserve requirement, they can borrow money from another bank with excess reserves at the Federal Reserve (the Fed from here on out). The rate that they will pay for the loan is called the Federal Funds Rate. Basically, the lower the Fed Funds Rate, the easier (cheaper) it is for banks to borrow money from each other to make loans, meet reserve requirements, etc… This has the effect of basically adding additional money to the economy (increases the money supply).

The other rate that was lowered was the discount rate or ‘discount window’. This is the rate at which banks can borrow not from other banks but directly from the Federal Reserve. It is usually about a percentage point higher than the Fed Funds Rate (naturally, the Fed doesn’t want to lend its money to banks, so it is cheaper for banks to borrow from each other).

You will hear these rates referred to as monetary targets for open market operations. Open market operations are simply the means by which the Fed controls the supply of money in the economy.

Note:

When these two key interest rates are low, it often signals ‘easy money’, and can lead to inflation. When inflation is high, the Fed usually raises these two key interest rates in an effort to ‘cool’ the overheating economy. When economic growth is low (like what we are seeing in the economy presently), the Fed will lower interest rates in an effort to make funds easier to obtain, hence stimulating a slow economy.

Here is the catch… what do you do if the economy is slow and inflation is high?

Think about it…


Mmmmm… I want some M&M’s

January 17, 2008

After waking up this morning I promptly began the day with a Krispy Kreme donut. I then spent the next few hours before work screwing off and left myself no time to eat lunch before going in to work at 12:30.  It is now about 2:00pm, and as you might guess, I am starving.

About 5 minutes ago I found the solution to my problems… a huge glass jar of M&Ms sitting on the far corner of my desk. As I reached to grab it, I realized there is a post it note stuck to the top of the jar. It reads:

“Dave – Touch these and I’ll eat you.”

Nice.