Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 03 May 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I wonder how many people at this point are unaware of a semi-fake Martin Luther King Jr. quote going around the internet. In my (perhaps small) world, it’s been taking up more space than the analysis of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Here’s the quote:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Apparently, the first sentence was not said by MLK, although the latter three were. I saw a friend of mine post this quote on facebook last night and reposted it as my own status. How much did my reposting have to do with the fact that the quote was supposedly MLK’s? I have no idea, but I’d like to think that my motivations had more to do with the content than the supposed author of the quote. I’m sure that’s what the millions of other people who reposted it will say as well.

What’s REALLY amazing here is not only how quickly a previously non-existent quote spread. The fact that the quote was not authentic seems to be spreading as quickly as the quote itself. In fact, if you Google search for "MLK quote” right now, I bet you will find more mentions of the quotes non-genuineness than of the quote itself (this was not true this morning when I tried the search). If you search for the first sentence of the quote, you still get mostly people sharing the quote, but I bet that will change soon as well.

I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad signal about the internet’s power. On one hand, untruths can spread amazingly quickly when the circumstances are favorable. However, they also seem to be corrected quickly.

Posted 01 May 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

-- Frank Outlaw

Interestingly enough, Frank Outlaw is probably not the person who said this. From a brief internet search, I gathered that (a) there are a bunch of Frank Outlaws out there, but none is particularly famous and (b) there’s no evidence that any of them actually said this. Nevertheless, it’s a good quote.

Posted 30 Apr 11 by Tatyana in General

My roommate went out of town on Thursday. To celebrate, my subconsciousness decided to lock me out of the apartment by leaving my keys at home. Now this has happened to me a few times last summer. Luckily, we live on the first floor and our kitchen windows were unlocked, so I would simply climb back in. At some point, I decided that leaving windows unlocked on the first floor was not such a great idea and locked them. So there I was with no keys, no cell phone, and no roommate to let me back in. I tried a few of the windows just for the hell of it, but no luck. My landlady didn’t pick up. Long story short, I managed to call a locksmith who took half an hour to arrive and then informed me that he couldn’t open any of the doors because of the lock type. While standing there and pondering which one of my friends I was going to inconvenience tonight, I decided to try a living room window. Lo and behold, it opened. The locksmith charged me $75 (yep, just for telling me there was nothing he could do) and left.

Posted 28 Apr 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I have to admit, I know very little about the "rules” of diplomacy, if there are any. So this story seemed very strange to me. Here’s the rough timeline:

  1. British high commissioner in Malawi calls its ruler "intolerant of criticism” in a diplomatic cable.

  2.  Wikileaks publishes cable.

  3. British high commissioner is expelled from Malawi (for "undiplomatic language”).

  4. Malawi high commissioner is expelled from Britain.

I hope you’re happy, Wikileaks. Is this what you were hoping to achieve by releasing these cables? I also wonder how expelling the British high commissioner could have helped Malawi’s ruler in any way, shape, or form, given what the accusations were. Does anyone realistically expect the language in internal diplomatic cables to be "diplomatic”? And event 4 just sounds like kindergarten. But then again, I’m not sure what these commissioners were doing in the first place – maybe this will help the countries cut unnecessary spending.

By the way, one definition of diplomacy is "The art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way” (from Google dictionary). So maybe this isn’t diplomacy after all.

Posted 03 Apr 11 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics
Someone forwarded me an article about a controlled study that found that people who went up escalators were more charitable than those who went down escalators. I am amazed at how easily psychologists find statistically significant effects from trivial-seeming things while economists struggle to get them for big picture things, like the effect of job training on earnings or the effect of tutoring programs on grades. The psychology studies I’ve seen typically have fairly small sample sizes (50 people in the control and 50 people in the treatment is not uncommon) and don’t do anything extreme to the treatments. Yet the effects are often large and statistically significant.

Posted 31 Mar 11 by Tatyana in Books

This blog works very well as a commitment device. Today, two people have mentioned my "I’m going to memorize the countries of the world” promise, forcing me to sit down and do some creative memorization following the techniques in the "Moonwalking with Einstein”. I had actually already memorized Central and South America and successfully recited the countries to a friend almost two days after the memorization took place. OK, I left out Argentina (ironically, that was one of the few countries I could identify before this exercise). But that’s still an over 90% retention rate.

I’ve moved on to Africa now. It’s much tougher than South America. The memorization techniques calls for coming up with images that evoke the country names (e.g., "guacamole” for Guatemala). The crazier the image, the better. It also has to be concrete (e.g., you won’t be able to remember Mauritania by thinking of "moratorium”). So what am I supposed to picture for Ghana? And why are there three countries with the word "Guinea” in their name?

I’m about halfway done with Africa (Mauritania is Maury Povich). It’ll be interesting to see how much more I can memorize without forgetting Latin America.

Posted 27 Mar 11 by Tatyana in Books

I just started reading "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer. First of all, I want to say that seeing advertisement over and over works: it wasn’t until I saw an article about the book and an interview with the author that I decided to buy it. Second, I’m really happy to be reading books again – I haven’t read any since the New Year holidays.

I don’t have a review yet, but I have decided to take up a challenge in my spare time: memorize the map of the world using the techniques described in the book. Just country names for now, then maybe capitals. My geography is terrible. I could tell you which countries I can’t find on a map and you would be shocked, but I’m afraid to put anything that embarrassing down in writing.

I’ve tried using the techniques I’ve read about so far and it’s working amazingly well. I memorized a random shopping list from the book and hours later, I can still recite it in the right order (pickled garlic, cottage cheese, peat-smoked salmon, six bottles of white wine, three pairs of socks, three hula hoops, a snorkeling mask, etc…). I remember the locations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (those are all grouped together), Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and a few others. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

FYI, the book is not really a how-to book. It’s a lot more exciting than that  so far :) .

Posted 26 Mar 11 by Tatyana in News

I was looking at lists of hobbies (for a research project, of all things) and found some pretty "exotic” ones that I decided to share. I picked them mostly because they sounded obscure, interesting or unusual, not to make fun of them.

Click to find out what each hobby involves:

Know any other obscure hobbies?

Posted 08 Mar 11 by Tatyana in News

The Economist recently published an article about the relationship between loneliness and health. As you may have guessed, lonelier people are less healthy. The authors of the study even identified a pathway through which this may operate: a decreased activity in the virus-fighting genes in the lonely people and an increase in the bacteria-fighting genes. The latter can lead to a chronic inflammatory response if loneliness is chronic, subsequently reducing your chances of survival.

Posted 05 Mar 11 by Tatyana in Musings on Economics

I was watching an economic analyst a couple of days ago giving predictions and describing most pressing concerns for today’s economy. She was particularly concerned about rising gas prices and referred to it as "inflation” several times. At first, I cringed. I was taught to think that inflation was an overall increase in prices. If only oil prices go up, that’s a real price increase, not "inflation”.
  Of course, we do know that oil prices affect transportation costs. And given how global our economy is, that might cause the price of many goods to increase. Inflation is defined as "a general and progressive increase in prices”. Well, "general” is in the eye of the beholder. We’re certainly not going to measure the price of every good and come up with an inflation index based on that. Because inflation is computed using a particular basket of goods, a rise in oil prices might (and probably will) lead to an increase in the inflation index.

But I do wonder about those goods left out of the computation of the inflation index. If we included every good, would the inflation rate over the past 30 years be vastly different?

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