Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 08 Mar 10 by Tatyana in News

American Express sent me a notice today about the credit card reform bill and how it may affect my account. For the most part, this legislation looks welfare enhancing; most of the changes are meant to make sure people are provided with enough information (e.g. are aware of finance and interest charges) and that companies can’t manipulate people into paying late by playing around with the due date or refusing to send you a reminder to pay a few days before the payment is due. You can read American Express’s explanation of the changes here.

Unfortunately for me, I was already aware of the charges. I’m paranoid about paying off all my balance on time every month, and I’ve never been close to going over my limit. People like me will somehow be hurt by this reform (maybe there will be fewer rewards or higher merchant fees that will raise prices). But as a good citizen, I’m happy that the credit card system has been made somewhat more transparent.

Posted 04 Mar 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

Although Google has perfected the search engine (or at least made it very very very good at finding exactly what you need), it’s still far from being able to suggest relevant ads on Gmail. I constantly see links inviting me to get a PhD online or to evaluate my chances of getting into MIT. Note that Gmail knows I have an MIT email address and my signature contains the words "PhD student”. Maybe they’re afraid of using that information for privacy concerns?

Also, I’ve been getting links to recipes using Spam (the meat) for a long time. I could not figure out why. I thought maybe Spam was launching some advertising campaign and paying Google tons of money to put links on Gmail. It’s only a few days ago that I realized the Spam recipes come up when I check the message in my spam folder. Really, Gmail? Really?

Posted 01 Mar 10 by Tatyana in Science

A recent Scientific American article (you need to be a subscriber to read it though) demonstrated one of my favorite caveats about inferring whether something is good or bad for you by giving huge doses of it to lab rats (e.g. saccharin, which allegedly causes cancer, and tannins, which allegedly are good for you). As it turns out, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide, which are all normally considered poisonous, play a vital role in regulating dilation in blood vessels, among other things.

The human body contains (and needs) trace amounts of gold and other things that in large quantities would kill us. What people are doing when they claim something is bad or good based on large amounts of a substance is assuming that the effect is linear (or at least monotonic). However, it seems that lots of things are bad in large amounts but good or necessary in small amounts. Something could also be bad (or neutral) in small amounts but good in larger doses, although it’s not as easy to think of an example. The key point is that it’s important to test comparable dosages.

Posted 17 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

Sometimes I imagine how much more depressing my PhD would be without PhD comics. Then I wake up in a cold sweat to happily find that it still exists. Not only does it make the suffering of a graduate student seem funnier than it actually is, but it makes you feel like you’re not alone.

The most recent comic was particularly relevant. It also coincided with one of the MIT professors claiming that PhD students used to be interesting people at one point (hard to believe). While I’m not that cynical about the whole experience, I see how easy it is to lose sight of what’s important when you dive into academic work. People do need hobbies (and, in the words of another MIT professor, "math is not a hobby”), friends, and self-care. After I read that comic, I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve done some things I used to really enjoy, like write poetry. It’s time to change that. Right after I do this presentation on Monday and finish my paper draft.

Posted 14 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

From my slowly-coming-together paper draft:

"The effect of capital shocks on the labor market is also ambiguous, even if population and prices are held constant. If the shock destroys capital that was held by consumers as a durable good (e.g. a house or a car), the marginal utility of consumption will rise relative to leisure and workers will increase their labor supply. The demand for the durable good will then increase as well, leading to higher demand for labor. On the other hand, if the shock destroys producer capital and labor and capital are complements in the production of a final good, then the marginal product of labor will fall and labor demand will decrease. On the third  hand, if some capital was used as an intermediate input in production of capital goods and the latter are destroyed, labor demand will increase.”

OK, I didn’t actually write "third hand” in the paper, but you get the idea.

Posted 12 Feb 10 by Tatyana in General
 Is your life too good? Are you bored? If you need a problem, you can BUY themhere.  

Posted 11 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

From the MIT student planner (there WILL be a quiz at the end):

  1. "The penguin is the only bird that can swim, but cannot fly.”
  3. "Stressed is desserts spelled backwards.” (…and "diet” is "die” with a "t”)
  5. "There is a word in the English language with only one vowel, which occurs six times: indivisibility.”
  7. "Facetious and abstemious contain all the vowels in the correct order.”
  9. "There are only four words in the English language which end in "-dous”: tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous.”
  11. "‘Acre’ literally means the amount of land plowable in one day.”
  13. "Coca-Cola was never green.”
  15. "Any month that has a Friday the 13th also has a Wednesday the 25th.” (…and a Thu the 13th)

Quiz: (a) Who figures these things out?,  (b) How many starving children could be fed if we donated the money paid to people in part (a) to developing countries?, and (c) Who would ever think Coca-Cola used to be green and why?

Cool fact from MIT planner: "Al Gore’s roommate in college was Tommy Lee Jones”

Posted 10 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I thought that the spammers ran out of good jokes. But then I saw a few more cute ones:

  1. A JOKE! ) How do you get holy water? Boil the hell out of it.
  3. Wanna good joke? Where does a one-armed man shop? At a second hand store.
  5. Do you want a joke?  Why do turkeys eat so little? Because they are always stuffed!
  7. I have a fresh joke for you) Did you hear about the two men who walked into a bar? The third one ducked.
  9. Nice joke! What do you call Santa’s helpers? Subordinate Clauses.

Posted 07 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

In one of last month’s posts on the Freakonomics Blog, Dubner highlights a chapter in SuperFreakonomics that discusses the wage gap between men and women, finds that many women have a lower participation in the workforce after having children and conclude that women end up earning less than men because "many women, even those with MBAs, love kids”. This is an oversimplification of the chapter, of course, but the ease with which the authors jumped from the statistic "women with kids work less” to the conclusion "women love kids and thus choose to work less” was pretty irritating to me.

Here are some more statistics: women do significantly more housework than their husbands, even after controlling for how many hours each spouse works and their earnings. Is that because they like cleanliness better or are better at cleaning? Maybe. You almost never hear of men changing their last names when they get married or of children getting their mother’s last name when they’re born. Is that because women don’t like their last names? Maybe.

But it’s also entire possible (and I think likely) that women feel more societal and family pressure to put their careers second to children and to be responsible for the housework. If society on average expects women to be the primary caretakers of children and houseworkers rather than men, women may end up working less and doing more housework even if they don’t care about kids any more than their husbands.

Imagine you come to  a couple’s house for dinner and see that it’s a mess (dishes aren’t done, male and female clothes on the floor). You have to pick either the husband or the wife as the one who failed in their responsibilities. I’m sure you would be equally likely to pick either one because you’re so egalitarian? But do you think only 50% of the people would blame the woman for the mess?

How many people would think a man was a bad parent if he said, "I won’t be taking any time off when my child is born” v. if a woman said the same thing (minus some necessary time off to recover from giving birth)? Assuming no one wants to be thought of as a bad parent, who do you think will be the one taking time off? And if you’re a married woman of child-bearing age, think about what your mother would say to you if you told her that you plan to keep working while your husband stays home with the baby.

This is of course not meant to offend any women who don’t feel pressured to step back from their careers to spend more time with their children. And maybe the statistics in Dubner’s post do explain the direct cause of the wage gap. But the statistics don’t explain the fundamental cause, the reason for the career differences, and I think those causes are pretty damn important to figure out. Saying that it must be because "women love babies” is like saying that black kids score worse on standardized tests because "black people don’t like learning”.

Posted 03 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I thought snobbism in America was nearly dead (at least in public) until I saw this profile on Above The Law. I was shocked at the level of conceit when I read the blog comments of this "partner emeritus” (according to him, he’s a "legend in the legal profession”). I’m still not 100% convinced that this is a real person and not someone who made up a character for the fun of it, but his comments are entertaining to read.

Here are fun exerts:

"If you obtained an LLM degree from a peer law school, yet earned a JD from a non-peer institution, you are still a non-peer. It really irked me to meet some attorneys who thought they were in the same league as I was in because they earned an LLM from a top program.”

I’m not even sure what a "peer” law school is, but I would bet this guy went to Harvard.

"Marriage today is nothing but a contract which includes a pernicious penalty clause that will, in most cases, castigate the male for having fallen in love.”

"Try composing sentences after imbibing half a bottle of scotch before noon.”

"Practitioner’s tip for U. of Wisconsin Law grads: I have been to your state twice in my life. I would rather be marooned without food in Tierra del Fuego than set foot in your state again. No honorarium fee, 5 or 6 figures, would convince me to speak to your kind. Save your money for your life has seen the end game…yesterday.”

I really hope this guy is real!

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