Archive for the ‘Happenings’ Category

Olivier Blanchard is a cool guy

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Olivier Blanchard, currently chief economist at the IMF, gave a talk at Georgetown on Wednesday 3/24. So, of course, I went to see him, since occasionally listening to awesome people talk is one of the fringe benefits of being a Georgetown student. His talk was titled “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy”, which as interesting to me because I rarely even think about macroeconomic policy, let alone rethink it. I’m going to summarize what I found most interesting and prescient in what he said.

Blanchard noted that monetary policy in the past has focused on one target and one instrument. He said that, in the future, monetary policy should instead have many targets and many instruments. His reasoning was that, while in this past crisis there was a housing boom, there wasn’t an overall boom, so raising the federal funds rate may have slowed the housing sector, but it would have hurt other sectors. He also said that the future of central banks should be that they are 1) transparent about objectives, and 2) flexible as to their instruments.

Another thing I really like was an example of what Blanchard called a “schizophrenia” in economic thinking. When economists discuss fiscal policy, there is usually mention of automatic stabilizers, and how they are better than active policies because of the time lag of the political process. But, Blanchard noted, there is no talk about how to design better automatic stabilizers. It’s like the progressive tax system and social services, exactly the way they exist now, just so happen to be optimal as automatic stabilizers. I think this is a really good point — from first-hand experience, I can vouch that Greg Mankiw’s favorite textbook glosses over automatic stabilizers in this exact way.

Blanchard’s thoughts seem to be consistent with my view that economics should become more of an engineering discipline than it currently is.


Saturday, March 13th, 2010

I know I haven’t been blogging a whole lot lately. Since it’s spring break, I’m taking this opportunity to get back into a groove. I’ve also taken the liberty of recategorizing a bunch of my old posts. The following list should encompass any particular thing I write about:

  • Computers
  • Economics
  • GTD
  • Happenings
  • Musings
  • Muzak
  • Nerditry
  • Science

At least, that’s the breakdown I thought was most relevant. I consider it pretty telling.

One last thing: I want to keep myself on at least a rough schedule from here on out. In my case, intermittent blogging is a vice, and one which I intend to avoid. I should be able to write something at least once a week. Since I’m a big fan of commitment devices, I expect my loyal readers — I know you’re out there — to keep me on target if I slip.

I’m counting on you, guys.

General Petraeus, all-around nice guy

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

General Petraeus gave a talk at Georgetown in late January. I decided to go, since it’s the first time I had a chance to hear a four-star general give a talk. He seemed really cool. I mean, never mind the fact that the guy has an absurd number of awards, honors, and distinctions — being a general with a PhD must be awesome.  Oh, he’s also the Commander of CENTCOM, meaning he’s in charge of thousands of men in twenty countries. But I digress.

But in spite of (or because of) his awesomeness, it seems like a large group of people make a sport out of being a dick to General Petraeus. I cannot understand why. At his presentation, there were at least a dozen student sleeper agents in the audience who would interrupt his talk by reading the names of people killed in military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m all for non-violent protests, but this was egregious and poorly targeted. Essentially a group of rabble rousers perverted free speech to their twisted ends, not to mention infringed on a lot of peoples’ good time.

I don’t know why General Petraeus is constantly a target for blind hatred. From his Wikipedia article, it seems to me like he made a bad situation way better in Iraq, and helped save a bunch of lives. Also it’s not like this guy embodies the military industrial complex. If you don’t like that we’re in Iraq, go heckle George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney. Generals don’t make those sorts of decisions — not least of all generals who weren’t in charge of things at the time. David Petraeus is a gentleman and a scholar, and attacking him only makes you look like an r-tard.

When you decide it’s imperative to be a dick to someone, at least make sure you’re targeting the right person.

Supporting alcohol in Sudan

Monday, January 18th, 2010 is a person-to-person micro-lending website, which allows prospective do-gooders in the developed world to fund micro-finance operations for entrepreneurs in the developing world. I found out about Kiva around two years ago, and even though I gave a few gift certificates, it took me until today to make my first loan.

My lendee is so awesome that I felt the distinct need to blog about her. First, her name is Joice Pita, which is cool in and of itself. She lives in South Sudan, and runs a pub. I know very little about the Sudan — Wikipedia reminded me that Darfur is part of the country, and also noted that Sudan’s motto is “victory is ours” — but I can posit a guess that they could use more pubs. The thought of helping a pub-owner in the Sudan was too much to pass up.

Here’s her blurb, straight from her Kiva page:

Joice Pita is currently in the business of selling local alcoholic beverages, beer, and soda, and is requesting a loan to stock more crates of beer and soda to sell. Joice is 33 years old and is married with a husband that is a soldier. She has 6 children, and her children go to school. With the extra profits from her loan, she hopes to be able to open a hotel.

Now try and tell me that is not a cause worth funding. I thought so.

If you have some spare time, definitely check out Kiva. The money you put in isn’t a donation or a handout (though you can donate to itself to cover their operating expenses), which means that when your lendees pay you back, you can find new lendees and start the cycle over. You can even withdraw the money in your account after you’ve done some lending with it. So, if your bank account has some extra money in it, and you decide that instead of earning one percent interest you want to help save the world, you should head over to and start lending, like rite nao.


Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Two quick things:

First, the fan on my laptop died last weekend, rendering me without a PC at home. I can’t blame the poor thing; it’s been on it’s last legs for months now, and the laptop itself is over four years old. Without the internets distracting me, I’ve seen a boost in productivity, though my blogging will likely be more intermittent than usual.

Second! my favorite non-profit organization Creative Commons has kicked off its annual fundraising campaign. You should consider donating so you can get a sweet t-shirt, and also to support a worthy mission. Saving the world from failed sharing is a noble goal, the people are amazing, and come on, look how good you can look in a CC t-shirt (that’s me in my superhero pose, for those of you keeping score at home). I cannot recommend Creative Commons highly enough. And tell your friends to send them lots of money too.

HSBC win

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

A few months ago I received a very peculiar correspondence. Upon close inspection I realized it was from HSBC, probably regarding the checking account I have with them.

HSBC: Important Information

The text reads simply:


Please keep this with your other important documents.

Effective immediately, your Account will be governed by federal law and the laws of the state of Virginia, whether or not you live in Virginia and whether or not your Account is used outside of Virginia

My first emotion was confusion. This quickly gave way to near-fatal hilarity. And hey, isn’t Virginia a commonwealth? Last, I became increasingly impressed at how closely they mimicked the tone and prose of a very intense card game.

Later on I would receive a new letter, with appropriate context, explaining this letter. But the damage is done: I don’t think I can ever take HSBC seriously again.

Awesome Foundation

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Another brainchild of the eminent Tim Hwang, the Awesome Foundation for Arts and Sciences is accepting micro-applications for awesome ideas. They’ll hang out a micro-grant of ~$1k once a month to the most awesome idea they get.

So, what is awesome? I’m not sure exactly either, but I know it when I see it. Whatever it is, I agree that we need to subsidize the production of awesome, since it should go without saying that awesome has significant positive externalities. (Jon Pierce compares it to the broken windows theory in reverse.)

The Awesome Foundation itself is an awesome idea (does that make it meta-awesome?). I for one am looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. And in the back of my mind I’ll be mulling over their subtle call to action: “We’d also be happy to help others start an awesome foundation in their location.” I wonder how much awesomeness exists in DC.

Accidental feminism

Monday, July 13th, 2009

My DC housing search is rapidly coming to a close. I found a room in a row house on Riggs Place near DuPont Circle, and I’m in the process of making things official. It’s a quick walk to the DuPont metro station, and a similarly quick walk to the GUTS stop. My recent visits to the District have convinced me that DuPont is the place to be, and I’m pretty happy having found a reasonably-priced room.

The coolest part, though, is my landlord. Turns out she’s Jo Freeman, the well-known feminist, scholar, author, political scientist, and attorney — though I admit she was not well-known to me until I did some Googling. Judging from her Wikipedia article she has a pretty incredible past.

Random awesome people amaze me. I kind of want to read her books now: “At Berkeley in the Sixties: Education of an Activist, 1961-1965″ looks  particularly interesting. I’m going to consider her a fringe benefit of living in DC.

Christina in Europe: the blag

Monday, July 6th, 2009

My little sister Christina is hanging out in Europe for the forseeable future. She’s doing a study abroad in Italy starting in the fall, and for the summer she’s kicking around London.

She’s keeping a blag chronicling  her adventures. I hear it may have a video portion soon. Check it out.

The Daily Show

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Late last Monday night I was alerted by my friend Jon Brandvein of his acquisition of tickets to the Daily Show (with Jon Stewart, of course). The tickets were for two days later, that Wednesday. Being unemployed and currently living with my parents, I was able to take advantage of this immense opportunity.

On July 1st I traveled into NYC, ostensibly to stand in a queue on 11th Avenue for half the day, but really to see Jon Stewart. Past the airport-like security into the studio, it was surreal. Jon Stewart is an actual real person, who dresses very nicely, and is maybe even more hilarious in real life. The show is live-taped, so during the commercials he confers with his helper people about Really Important Things. Jon’s hand-off to Stephen Colbert does indeed happen live at the end, and they shoot the breeze before the actual live taping part. At first, though, you can’t tell that they’re just conversing, because it is so effing hilarious.

Additionally they confiscated my hipster PDA. I didn’t get the memo that notes were prohibited, though in retrospect that makes perfect sense. I do remember that during the first commercial break Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” played, and Coldplay’s “Clocks” was the second commercial break. Also I was totally that guy live-tweeting standing in line for tickets.

Epic win all around. A+++++ Would Buy Again Great Shipping for the Daily Show.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.