Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 02 Jan 10 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

Whenever surveys ask people whether they’re saving too much, too little, or not enough, the overwhelming majority claim to be saving too little. But you always get a few people who claim they’re saving too much. I’ve lately been wondering who those people are and how they manage to save too much. Do they not know what to spend their money on? Are they constrained by a controlling spouse? Did they read the question wrong?

If we allow people to make random mistakes, we would expect the proportion of people saving too much and too little to be similar. If anything, there should be more people saving too much if credit card companies realize people may borrow too much. Maybe there are people who are saving too much but don’t realize it.

An easy answer is that certain things like spending money are tempting and people’s long-run self conflicts with their short-run self, resulting in under-saving. But lately I’ve been wondering how social norms and expectations contribute to how much we think we should be saving. An interesting aspect of this is that social norms can make you save too little (because buying a house, a car, and an expensive vacation is something every American should be doing) AND make you think you should be saving more (because it’s good to prepare for the future).

Since it is January, a related question is why are New Year’s resolutions so one-sided?  Think about how the following sounds to you:

This year, I resolve to spend more money, eat more junk food, exercise less, gain weight, travel less, spend less time with loved ones and more time on facebook and on drugs…



Posted 01 Jan 10 by Tatyana in Books
 I recently finished Steven Landsburg’s "The Big Questions”. I can’t quite make up my mind about it. I learned some interesting facts about color vision, ripples in ponds, and the difference between something "true” and something "provable”. I also learned that Landsburg went to a very good kindergarten and had very functional parents.
Overall, I didn’t like the book because it covered too many things too superficially. If you agree with the author’s conclusions, you’re not going to find anything objectionable, but you also won’t hear a new argument. If you disagree, you’re not going to find a lot of solid arguments to rebut. I kept wishing Landsburg (who I’m sure is very intelligent!) were there for me to argue with. Maybe if I were less pedantic, I would be able to not take the sometimes ridiculous claims the author makes so seriously. It did seem like Landsburg wanted to be taken seriously (unlike Stephen Colbert in "I Am America, and So Can You!”), which made his underdeveloped arguments very irritating to read.  


Posted 24 Dec 09 by Tatyana in Books
Given the uproar that the global warming chapter in "Superfreakonomics” created and the fact that I know something about the subject matter, I decided to skip reviewing the whole book and focus on the chapter where the authors (Steve Levitt and Steve Dubner) discuss the issue of global warming.
Overall, it seems that the criticism of the chapter is largely unjustified. Levitt and Dubner are not claiming that global warming is a myth or that we should do nothing about carbon emissions. Their main point is that geoengineering may prove to be a more effective and cheaper solution than trying to get the world to forego things that emit carbon.


Posted 21 Dec 09 by Tatyana in Movies
 I watched "Avatar” yesterday. It was the first time I watched a movie in 3D (unless you count IMAX shark movies at the Aquarium). The 3D motion picture phenomenon is relatively recent. Most of the movies have been animated films, but I can definitely see how other genres, like action, can benefit from 3D as well. I wonder if this is going to make movie theaters more popular; it’s much harder to find a close substitute for watching a 3D movie in theaters and I’m much more willing to pay extra for this.
But musings on the future of the movie industry aside, Avatar was (unsurprisingly?) good. In the beginning, I didn’t think the plot was great. The parallels between the storyline and real world events were not subtle enough. Halfway through the movie I gave up on trying to get into the story and started focusing on the imagery. However, at the end the movie did make me feel somewhat emotional (mostly sad), so overall I give the plot a B+.
The animation was stunning, as were the number of people listed in the credits afterwards. The imagination that the makers put into creating this world was evident in every plant and animal of Pandora (the planet on which the action takes place). I’m not sure what my non-3D experience would have been like, but I can confidently say that this is a movie worth watching in theaters unless you have a huge HD panel at home.  


Posted 20 Dec 09 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

For some reason, I keep thinking of the analogy of having a baby when I this PhD thing.

If you think about it, the process is very similar, especially in the later years.

Year 3 = first trimester. You feel like you’re on top of the world (= like you just had sex). You have no responsibilities and face little or no expectations.

Year 4 = second trimester. The morning sickness/mood swings start. Periodically, you still remember why you’re doing this. Other times, you want to abort the whole thing.

Year 5 = third trimester. Life becomes difficult. Labor starts, and you’re in a lot of pain. You worry about whether your "baby” will have all its fingers and toes intact ( = whether you’ll realize there’s a defect in your code which invalidates all your findings).

Year 6…If you’re still in grad school by year 6, they’ll induce labor by cutting your funding.



Posted 27 Nov 09 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I wish I knew who these blog spammers were so I could give them credit for these and write angry emails. For now, I’ll just have to steal their jokes. I’m actually surprised by the quality of the word play. 5 is definitely my favorite.

     
  1. A joke for you peoples! Did you hear about the butcher who accidentally backed into the meat grinder? He got a little behind in his work.
  2.  
  3. Wanna joke? What kind of shoes do lazy people wear? Loafers.
  4.  
  5. I have a joke for you =) Which day of the week is the best for a dental appointment? Toothday.
  6.  
  7. Good joke :) What did the robot have to do before she wore any earrings? She had to get her gears pierced.
  8.  
  9. I have a joke for you =) Did you hear about the dyslexic atheist? He doesn’t believe in dogs.
  10.  
  11. A JOKE! How many letters are in the alphabet? Nineteen. Because ET went home on a UFO and the FBI went after him.


Posted 23 Nov 09 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

I know this post will make no difference whatsoever, but I just have to get my opinion out there. As much as I think that health care reform is necessary, no bill may be better than any bill. And the more I hear about what the current proposal contains (yes, I haven’t read the bill myself, and neither has anyone except probably 10-15 people), the more I think we’re going to end up with the "any bill” outcome.

If the US passes a bill that worsens the health care system, it’s going to be really hard to undo. First, who’s going to want to revisit something that just passed? We have unemployment, global warming, the financial sector, Guantanamo, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and a million other things to worry about. Unless the reform has DRASTIC negative effects, Congress will likely not address health care again for a while.

Even if the bill creates disastrous consequences which prompt re-regulation, any changes will likely resemble a "kludge", a quick fix which may work for a while but makes the entire system more inefficient in the long run.

It is important to get this right. And right now it seems that we’re mostly getting it wrong.



Posted 22 Nov 09 by Tatyana in Movies

Yes, I admit it. I watched "Twilight Saga: New Moon” last night, and I enjoyed it. It was everything I expected and more. And I expected teen drama, vampires, and hot guys. I did not expect werewolves, so that was a nice little bonus.

I’ve noticed that as I spend more and more time in grad school (or maybe age; I can’t really separate the effects of those two things), I want to do more mindless things when I’m not working. I still have a low tolerance for watching movies which don’t offer much besides pretty people and action, but I definitely need 2-3 a year. Twilight is a great choice for that. I’m not being sarcastic. If you’re finding that you’ve been taking your life too seriously lately, go see it and just enjoy.



Posted 18 Nov 09 by Tatyana in Travels

You know you’ve been traveling too much when:

(a) You see that lady in front of you hand the TSA agent a Massachusetts driver’s license, think "What a coincidence that she’s from Massachusetts as well!”, then realize that you’re at Logan airport and not in SFO.

(b) You scan the departures screen for your flight to Chicago, don’t find it listed, then realize you’re in Chicago on your way to Boston.

(c) Your watch and your computer are set to two different time zones. And neither is set to the time zone you’re in.

(d) You start recognizing flight attendants and flight numbers

I’ve been traveling too much, although I haven’t reached (d) yet.



Posted 29 Oct 09 by Tatyana in Travels

In case you’re wondering why Chicago’s making an appearance all of a sudden, it’s because I’m visiting the University for the semester.

I’m sure everyone’s heard that Chicago is known as the "Windy City” and heard people talk about how windy it is here. A few years ago, someone told me that this is not actually because of the wind, but because of Chicago politics (i.e. politicians bragging and being full of empty talk in general). Since I love "You know, that’s not actually true” moments, I remembered that. This weekend, the tour guide on the architecture tour said the same thing and added that the name originated before the 1893 World Fair when the boasting related to getting the World Fair bid became outrageous.

You know, neither story is actually true. I looked up the windiest US city this morning. There’s some debate as to what the windiest actually is, depending on whether you exclude Alaska (the weather service did when they published their list), but it most definitely isn’t Chicago. It isn’t even in the top 10 (Boston ranks number 9 if you exclude Alaska). You can find this and lots of other "weather lists” here.

As far as the politics, a historian in American slang wrote that he found references to Chicago being called the "Windy City” in 1885, way before the World Fair bid (he also found a reference to it being called "The Garden City”). He couldn’t find the reason for this nickname, however. This USA Today Q&A archive has this and more.

It does feel very windy here though. My own (unverified) hypothesis is that Chicago might have a high variance in wind speeds relative to other places. If there are a lot of windless days in Chicago and a few REALLY windy days, it might feel windier than a city that has steady winds with the same average.



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