17 April 2008

Note #2 to little cousins, nephew and niece

Professors often don't have students' best interests at heart. Why should they? After all, once they have tenure, they can't be fired... Professors sometimes abuse this power, such as when they choose textbooks based on kickbacks they get from publishers. And have you ever wondered why all the "good" classes are held at the same time, in the middle of the day? Possibly it's because those tenured professors want to come to work late and leave early. The result? You can't get the class you want. And even if you got it, you might not learn much. Faculty members generally aren't promoted based on their teaching skills, but rather on their prestige and the research dollars they generate.

(From the same Thomas Sowell below - who is a professor himself.)

And to the extent that you can generalize that professors in big-name universities are more focused on generating research dollars and upkeeping prestige, this would confirm my observation all along that »my professors at Madison were much better teachers of economics. It would also support why in terms of selecting classes, you should not let titles ("lecturer" vs "professor") affect your your choices. (Some of my best classes were taken with »this memorable lecturer.)

The chess-piece fallacy: why you should not study what is hot

Adam Smith chastised people who thought they could "arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess board." Yet, more than two centuries after Smith's warning, policy makers still try various forms of “social engineering.” Usually such schemes don't work because, unlike rooks and knights, people have wills and desires that often conflict with social engineers' theories...

- Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies

Or, facts can change such that engineers are no longer as in demand after you are told that four years ago that engineering is a hot thing to major in.

Note to all my little cousins and nieces and nephews please.

05 April 2008

Muji chronotebook

Diary schedules are arranged in lines and grids, which are difficult to see and has little flexibility. This notebook makes it clear, intuitive and easy to plan and see your daily schedules.

Such simplicity, but how brilliant!

01 April 2008

Of immortal crabs and roosters' eggs

Speaking of crabs and Mexican in the previous post, I am reminded of a lunch conversation when I said, "A penny for your thought?" and Mexican Mr V and Columbian Mr F looked at me blankly.

Turns out that they don't have a similar expression in question form, but they have superb answers to the question. The Columbian answer is "thinking about the eggs of the rooster", and the Mexican one, my favourite, goes:

"Thinking about the immortality of crabs".

Crabs! How magically realistic!

When there are no birds, even an arse is a nightingale

...Still, differences in idiom do teach us about culture and history. Where an English-speaker says "the die is cast", a Mexican says "the rice is cooked". The proverb "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" becomes, in Russian, "When there are no fish, even a crab is a fish," which reveals a surprising amount about what survival once entailed for the typical Russian peasant. (I admit, though, to being baffled by the cruder popular version of this phrase, "When there are no birds, even an arse is a nightingale.")

I also don't get how the arse can be related to a nightingale, but in Chinese, our 生米已煮成熟饭 is identical to the Mexicans'. Amazing.