Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 06 May 10 by Tatyana in Books

I just finished "Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. When this book was first recommended to me as something that could help me with presentations, I thought it would consist of fluff useful for salesmen and inspirational speakers. Fluff doesn’t work on academics. But just as sick people will go to homeopaths and witch doctors when they’re really desperate, sometimes circumstances call for extreme measures.

As you can (hopefully) guess, I wouldn’t be so open about my reservations if I didn’t like the book. It’s an excellent discussion of the basic principles that make people remember your ideas. After the first few chapters, I was convinced that their recommendations are applicable in many situations, including academic papers and seminars.

Along the way, you also learn that Sherlock Holmes never used the phrase, "Elementary, my Dear Watson”, that the phrase "Nice guys finish last” originated by someone being quoted out of context, that you can get Macy’s purchases gift wrapped at Nordstrom, and that there used to be as much fat in a bag of popcorn as in a table laden with junk food.

"Made to Stick” isn’t "entertainment” reading, but if you’re in a profession where you need to communicate ideas to other people in a way that makes them remember it, I would recommend it.

Posted 04 May 10 by Tatyana in News

I sold my BP stock yesterday. In case you’re not aware, BP was the company that was leasing the drilling site that exploded almost two weeks ago, killing 11 people, spilling 5,000 of barrels of oil a day (at least) and threatening the Gulf Coast ecosystems and fishing industry. Recently, BP has promised to pay for the cleanup (not like they really had a choice). Deciding whether or not to sell the stock was a tough call. If the investors already incorporated all the information into the price, it would be too late to avoid losses.

But for some reason I think the market is underestimating the effect this has on BP. The cleanup of the oil itself could cost more than a billion, especially if BP ends up paying for the National Guard that was dispatched (which it probably will). The commercial losses to the fishing industry will be big. If it has to pay for ecosystem damage as well, who knows how much that will cost. There will be pressure on Obama to make an example of BP. Its international reputation might suffer as well. Although according to this analysis, the drop in price was an overreaction. I kind of hope it wasn’t. Sorry, BP!

Posted 03 May 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

The tap water in Boston is now safe to drink again. The biggest disappointment through this whole thing has been MIT’s reaction to the state of emergency. Cambridge has its own water supply, so those living there were not affected. However, plenty of students live in Somerville or Boston, including some sorority and fraternity members.

Boston University sent its students tons of emails and made automated phone calls. MIT tested its emergency alert system the week before (and it seemed to be working well). It sent no emails about the water until Monday (the whole thing started Saturday). Monday’s email started with "If you were affected by the boiled water order…” Thanks for letting us know, MIT!

Posted 30 Apr 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I’ve never been in a situation where supplies might become scarce…until today. The governor has declared a state of emergency because of a broken pipe that has caused much of the water in and around Boston to be undrinkable.

We went to CVS to stock up on drinking water, wondering how many other people would have the same idea (a lot). Now the fun math problem is, how much do you buy? The water is leaking at a rate of 8 million gallons per hour, affecting drinking water in 700,000 households. That’s about the only number available. How long will this last? Are the shipments of bottled water enough to keep up with demand?

I definitely experienced what I always thought was crazy – wanting to buy as much was as I could carry. I resisted it, but still bought more water than I would have thought rational.

Posted 29 Apr 10 by Tatyana in General

Apparently, Larry Summers has a protege, a 3L who wrote an email asserting the possibility that intellectual performance differences between races might be partly genetic. As much as the writer tried to be politically correct (if there is a politically correct way to say something like this), the email got passed around (you can read about it here).

What is it about nature arguments that makes them so appealing? (By the way, when I say "nature”, I mean the unexplained gap AFTER you’ve accounted for observable characteristics of individuals).

Posted 28 Apr 10 by Tatyana in News

Yesterday, it was announced that Peter Diamond, a professor of economics at MIT, will be one of the nominees for the Fed. I’m proud to say that I’ve taken his public finance and microeconomics classes (but I don’t think that means I’ll be getting nominated anytime soon).

A lesser known fact is that Peter Diamond also got to throw the first pitch at the Red Sox game on April 20th AND had a concert given in his honor later that week (read about that here).

Congrats, Peter!

Posted 27 Apr 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

A few years ago, I heard someone say that weather forecasters always overstate the chances of rain. The reasoning is that people are REALLY unhappy if it rains when the forecast calls for sun and only slightly unhappy when it doesn’t rain although the forecast says otherwise.

I generally agree with that reasoning, but there is a limit. This week, the Boston forecasters overstepped it. They’ve forecasted rain starting on Sunday morning. There was no rain on Sunday or Monday. In fact, it was quite sunny. I brought my bike inside both nights, silently swearing as I maneuvered it up the stairs while trying to open the three sets of doors between the outdoors and my apartment. To be fair, it did rain Monday night, but by Tuesday morning it was clear again. Yet weather.com relentlessly kept forecasting rain.

Of course, by Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t really care what weather.com said. I decided that my method of looking at the sky in the distance was far more reliable. I jumped on my bike and went to play tennis (indoors, because we thought it was going to rain). As you can guess, when I came outside, the ground was wet and rain was coming down.

I hope these are not the same guys who are in charge of deciding whether or not there’s global warming.

Posted 26 Apr 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

Instead of telling kids that they can be "anything they want to be” (as the US stereotype goes) or to keep their expectations low, people should be telling them to keep things simple. My recent experiences confirm that this is the best attitude to have whether you’re trying to write a dissertation or improve your tennis skills.

I don’t want my dissertation to be simple. I want it to be the ultimate answer to several super important questions. But as it turns out, that’s neither feasible, nor desirable. Trying to answer a lot of general questions has so far led me to no answers. As it also turns out, the people who come up with lots of good answers write a lot of good but specific papers. I may not be exactly like those people, but I can imitate their methods instead of trying to be all I can be.

In an entirely different realm, I finally decided to work on my tennis technique. Following a friend’s advice, I went to yellowtennisballs.com (great site!) and watched some free instructional videos. The forehand basics consist of five parts. I thought that was manageable until I stepped onto the court and realized that I was completely incapable of hitting a ball. So I just decided to focus on parts 1 and 2, which worked pretty damn well.

The point is that you can’t have everything, you can’t be everything, and you shouldn’t keep your expectations low (at least I hope to do slightly better than graduate and master 2/5 components of the forehand). But, in case your mother never told you, you should focus on one thing at a time if you want to get anywhere.

Posted 31 Mar 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I remember when it was pretty easy to trick people on April Fool’s day. Or maybe I thought it was. The first joke I remember making is telling my mom I was pregnant. I think I was 7 or 8. She didn’t believe me or think it was funny (in retrospect I can see why).

Now it’s much harder to convince people of something ridiculous. If you can make them believe it, it’s usually not funny and if it’s funny, no one will believe you. Even Google’s "joke” of changing its name to Topeka for the day is not really a joke. It’s a really cute response to Topeka changing its name to Google, Kansas for a month. Writing about the pope being sued by Kentucky is a bit too far fetched. Oh, wait, that actually did happen.

I was really hoping something interesting/ridiculous would happen so that I could tell people about it and have them not believe me because it’s April Fool’s. But Wednesdays are just not that exciting. And now I’ll go and cash my $35 million lottery ticket.

Posted 29 Mar 10 by Tatyana in Writing
 As I was editing my paper draft, I realized something which was probably told to me a long time ago: every time I use the phrase "Z is interesting”, I have no ideawhy it’s interesting, much less important. "Interesting” is a cop-out for when I have no idea why you should care about Z. So I’m forcing myself to take all the instances of that word out of the paper and replace it with something more meaningful. If I find a place where it actually is appropriate, I’ll let you know. But I doubt it.  

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