Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sticky expectations #2

From the LA Times:

The Facebook CEO and co-founder was recently in the capital city of Italy celebrating the wedding to his longtime girlfriend on their honeymoon, but on the Web, the young billionaire is getting grilled for his tipping habits -- or lack thereof.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, stopped by Nonna Betta, a kosher restaurant in Rome's Jewish Ghetto, where they spent 32 euros, about $40, on a meal that included fried artichokes, fried pumpkin flowers and ravioli stuffed with sea bass and artichokes, the Telegraph reported.

The couple thought the meal was "very good" but not good enough to tip, according to the Italian publication Corriere della Sera, which posted the story Monday.

Waiters at Nonna Betta were surprised no tip was left behind, not only because of Zuckerberg's wealth but also because they are accustomed to generous tips from American tourists, according to the Telegraph, which reported Zuckerberg also did not tip at another Roman establishment the previous night.

But should Zuckerberg really be blasted for not leaving a tip? If Zuckerberg hadn't left a tip at a restaurant in the U.S., that would be pretty lame of him, but in Italy tipping isn't exactly expected.

From the Globe and Mail (emphasis mine):

(In Mr. Zuckerberg’s defence, some have pointed out that a service charge is already included in the bill.)

But some argue Mr. Zuckerberg has been unfairly cast as a tightwad.

“It is not customary to tip for meal service in Italy,” Jodi Smith, of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, told MSNBC. In the United States servers have a lower minimum wage – tips are expected to supplement their income. “In Italy, servers are paid a living wage and tips are for extraordinary meals and/or service,” she says.

But while it may be okay for locals to skip leaving gratuities, it appears travellers, particularly Americans, tend to be held to a different standard.

“Zuckerberg not leaving a tip is a bit of a faux pas, but really because of Italian expectations of Americans,” Kathy McCabe of travel newsletter Dream of Italy, told USA Today. “Americans absolutely have a reputation for tipping, and many Italians have come to expect a tip when serving them.”

What are Italian expectations of Americans when it comes to bail-outs?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

YouTube in the classroom

When K1 was in 5th grade they learned French songs using YouTube. They learned this one by Francis Cabrel - Il Faudra Leur Dire.

Now that K2 is in 3rd grade, there seems to be more YouTube in the classroom. This time, it’s Yannick Noah - I remember him only as a tennis player.

Aux arbres citoyens seems to be a favorite. Les Lionnes is another and so is La Voix Des Sages.

Parties and Keynesian economics

From an episode of Bones:

Dr. Saroyan: I would really love to be able to give you all the equipment you desire. But the Jeffersonian’s suffering from cutbacks, just like every other government agency. They’ve even cancelled the Founder’s Day party.
Dr Hodgins: What?! There’s always the Founder’s Day party.
Dr. Saroyan: Not this year.
Dr Hodgins: Who do these bozos think they are? Don’t they realize by, like, spending on a party, we’re actually fueling the economy? You know, creating demand for, like, booze and food, and a DJ. I mean, come on! This is simple Keynesian economics.
Dr. Saroyan: Sorry, no party.
Dr Hodgins: God… Don’t you just hate the neoclassicists? Come on! What’s this country coming to? Seriously.

Clip here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sticky expectations

Via The Atlantic:

If you want to buy a used television, you are in for a world of hurt. As you peruse through the Craigslist listings for used TVs, you may notice something surprising. The prices are kind of high. Do a quick check on Amazon and your suspicions will be confirmed. Lots of people try to sell their used television for more than that same TV would cost brand new.

That doesn't make any sense. No one would ever buy a used TV for $800 when they could buy the new one under warranty for $750. A market like this cannot possibly function properly. What is going on in the market for used TVs?

It turns out, people have very inflated expectations for how much they call sell their used TV. …  Insanely, for some TV models, the median used price is higher than the new market price.

The typical Craigslist TV ad reads like this: "55 inch Samsung HD TV - $1000 . . . We bought this TV in August 2011 at the beginning of the school year for $1500."

The seller thinks: "I bought it for $1500, I'm being very fair discounting it 33% for the next owner." Unfortunately, the seller does not realize that during the 9 months they've been using the TV, it no longer costs $1500 new. Most likely you can buy that TV new today for $1000 or less.

I found this to be interesting in that it confirms my bias that people are either irrational or lack the correct information. What is more interesting is this: Why are they selling their old TV? If it’s because they are getting a new one then they would know that they are selling their old TV for a higher price than a new TV which makes things even more puzzling.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Education vs training

From MIT professor Woodie Flowers:

I believe that education and training are different. To me, training is an essential commodity that will certainly be outsourced to digital systems and be dramatically improved in the process. Education is much more subtle and complex and is likely to be accomplished through mentorship or apprentice-like interactions between a learner and an expert.

To clarify a bit: Learning a CAD program is training while learning to design requires education; learning spelling and grammar is training while learning to communicate requires education; learning calculus is training while learning to think using calculus requires education. In many cases, learning the parts is training while understanding and being creative about the whole requires education.

And from an article on Tony Kushner on whether acting is training or education:

[Tony] Kushner got involved with a theater group called the Columbia Players, and in a preview of his outsized ambition, he directed Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, which had 36 characters. Kushner sewed all the costumes himself.

“And there was no theater major,” Kushner said, “which was a great thing.”

The remark surprised me.

“I feel it’s a great shame that Columbia now has a theater major,” said this man of the theater.

I leaned forward with my face in my hands, concerned. “Tell me why.”

“Because it’s vocational training, it’s not a liberal arts degree. I’m sure that Columbia insists, as many schools do, that their theater majors take lots of academic classes, but I don’t think 18 is a good age to train somebody to be an actor because there’s a certain dismantling of the self that takes place. Good acting training should be sadistic. You have to unlearn a lot of what you think you know about acting, which is very entangled with your sense of self, in that the self that you present on stage has all sorts of complicated relationships with the self you imagine yourself to be and actually are. The difficult process of taking inventory of that and letting go of some of the things that you think make you attractive and appealing and good onstage and in public is very difficult. The first year in most serious acting training is a really hard year, and I think it’s ridiculous to think that people are going to do it when they’re 18 and away from home for the first time. You learn something, but I think you’ll learn it better when you’re four years older.

“Meanwhile, the liberal arts degree is one of the great inventions of Western civilization. It’s the perfect moment to become a brain for four years, and retrain, and learn, and I don’t think you ever get that back, I don’t think life is going to ever give you another four years when you’re allowed to just sit around and be confused.”

I still sat around being confused, but I saw Kushner’s point. I wished I’d read more in college, devoured more, been confused more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Risk and occupations

Implicit in this post about performing arts was the riskiness of certain occupations. Certainly the probability of dying or being injured because the job is dangerous is part of this equation (e.g. mining, NFL) but not the part that I want to focus on.

Are some jobs riskier than others because there is a higher probability of being unemployed? Is the variance of earnings higher in some occupations than others? Do some people trade off a job with lower mean but smaller variance because it has more certain payoffs?

Is performing arts - actors and musicians - a riskier occupation than say teaching? How would one go about measuring occupational risk? Is it the probability of unemployment over one's working lifetime condition on being in that occupation? Or is it just the unemployment rate within that occupation? Does being unemployed mean zero earnings so that the the spread in earnings increases - perhaps the earnings needs to be probability weighted.

And so forth.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Classical music is just not ‘fun’?

K1 and K2 have been taking piano lessons for a few years now going through the usual classical approach. We’ve also sat through many recitals and classical concerts and thought I’ve enjoyed them - some more than others, I’ve noticed that the atmosphere at most of these events is one of stiffness, seriousness and stuffiness. The performers themselves seem more interested in proving how technically adept they are rather than having fun performing. (There are exceptions - Lang Lang is one.)

Getting K1 and K2 to practice can also be difficult as any parent especially Tiger Mother can attest. Even when they do practice, there is a lack of joy in their playing that comes through - and by this I mean exuberance, delight, just pure joy of the music. Is classical music training destroying their appreciation?
Is this lack of fun more because of the instrument or the tradition? What happens when classical instruments cross over to the pop/rock field? One obvious example is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There are others:
  1. David Garrett - violin
  2. These two duelling cello dudes playing Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal
  3. Wired Strings - violins/cellos: Violins with Kanye West? May be better with Adele!
  4. Piano guys - cello/piano. My favorite? What do you get when you cross Adele with Holst? Bach with seven cellos? These guys rock!
Update (5/15/2010): Here is one of the perhaps more talented kids that are in the same music school as K1 and K2. There are other videos of her on YouTube as well but mostly I was struck by the intense concentration and grace but not enjoyment.

In which we don’t know what austerity means

I nodded approvingly when Tyler Cowen posted about the apparent lack of austerity in Europe. He claimed that he must have hid a nerve based on the shrillness of the comments. (I detected a smirk behind this statement.) But by and large I agreed that based on the flatness of the budget deficits there did not appear to much 'austerity'.

I later came across Ezra Klein's posts (here and here) and realized that I was mistaken. He points to the need to remove cyclical components (automatic stabilizers that kick in during a downturn) to get at the structural deficits to measure the degree of austerity. Doing so would reveal the extent of belt-tightening across the Euro zone. I stand corrected.

But Tyler refused to back down. In a follow up post, he says: 

Most of the time “austerity” is a misleading word and more precise concepts — readily intelligible I might add — are available.  There really are some times when we should relabel austerity as “mostly tax increases,” but many people are reluctant to do so.

I interpret this to mean that what he meant to say when he posted those charts was that the charts showed tax increases, not budget deficits, you foolish readers, you. Huh? And does he mean tax rates increases, total tax receipts, average tax receipts or what? I would hazard that while Tyler chides us for being imprecise about what austerity means, he himself is imprecise about what tax increases means.

The more serious problem of course is that we are trying convey complicated issues using simple graphs. The usual approach is to of course do what MR just did and then to follow it up with Ezra Klein's charts and then to argue why one set of graphs is better than another or perhaps to highlight what the possible confusions can be and to come up with some reason why the blogger prefers one set over the other.

This was not one of MR's better posts. He got all hoity-toity and essentially says, "Dude, you don't really understand - that's not a graph on deficits! It's about tax increases!"

Update (5/15/2010): Does this mean the Spaniards are protesting tax hikes or budget cuts? Tyler once again makes the case that austerity is really about tax hikes rather than spending insisting implicitly that the chart he first posted was really about tax hikes. Again - huh? I agree that that the definition of 'austerity' is vague - as far as economists are concerned. But this post should have been before he tried passing off a chart on budget deficits as tax hikes.

One of our own

After a lull in break-ins for about 2 months there was another rash of burglaries in our neighborhood - almost one every few days during the day. The police caught a break after the last break-in. An iPad  which had tracking software on it was stolen. This led the police to the criminal - a 14 year-old white male who lived in the neighborhood.

All sorts of questions came to mind immediately, but as we all know - it is the homegrown ones that are hardest to find, perhaps because all of our suspicions are centered on those who are not like us. As the current situation stand there are some who are still advocating for installation of cameras as well as hiring private security for additional patrols.