Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Fling 2011

Come for the music, stay for the F&L.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Today in MGT 562 Behavioral Perspectives on Management, Professor Simmons gave a lecture on "Goals, Plans, and Performance," covering a fairly broad set of concepts ranging from moral licensing to the goal-gradient hypothesis. One of the studies Professor Simmons cited, a paper on partitioning and consumption, prompted me to reflect a bit on my lifestyle.

The Effects of Partitions on Controlling Consumption (Cheema and Soman, 2008)
Abstract: The authors demonstrate that partitioning an aggregate quantity of a resource (e.g., food, money) into smaller units reduces the consumed quantity or the rate of consumption of that resource. Partitions draw attention to the consumption decision by introducing a small transaction cost; that is, they provide more decision-making opportunities so that prudent consumers can control consumption. Thus, people are better able to constrain consumption when resources associated with a desirable activity (which they are trying to control) are partitioned rather than when they are aggregated. This effect of partitioning is demonstrated for the consumption of chocolates (Study 1) and gambles (Study 2). In Study 3, process measures reveal that partitioning increases recall accuracy and decision times. Importantly, the effect of partitioning diminishes when consumers are not trying to regulate consumption (Studies 1 and 3). Finally, Study 4 explores how habituation may decrease the amount of attention that partitions draw to consumption. In this context, partitions control consumption to a greater extent when the nature of partitions changes frequently.
In other words, people are much better at controlling how much chocolate they eat (or money they spend) when the chocolates (gambles) are individually wrapped. Not exactly rocket science—most of us have realized at some point mid-bite that it's much easier to overeat when inhaling almonds/frozen cheesecake/Cheez-Its/강냉이/Baskin-Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream directly from the original bag or carton.

Random side note: The first thing I thought of when Professor Simmons started talking about individually wrapped chocolates was the beautiful tins of over-packaged Japanese treats that Ms. Fujiwara used to bring my brother and me every summer. 선생님 안녕하시지요?

Still zoned out from class, I then began thinking about the "aggregate" way in which many of us lead our lives. Society encourages us to fill our lives with an endless flood of interests, activities, relationships, and other commitments. Of course, each of these is valuable in its own way, and without them, life would quickly become lonely and uninteresting. But too often, I think, we end up stuffing our days to the point of bursting and are left with little time for ourselves.

The most obvious partition dividing this stream of activity is sleep: for at least the few sweet hours every night when we're forced to lie down in horizontal silence, we have no choice but to clear our minds of commitments and timetables. (Well, unless I keep having this bizarre dream about sitting down to watch a parade of friends and acquaintances receive Botox injections at 15-minute intervals. Any dream interpreters out there?) But once a day is too infrequent an interval and exacts too low a "transaction cost" given the demands of our awake lives.

I have to admit that, despite a few recent efforts, thoughtful introspection still remains a rare commodity for me. It's not necessarily that I don't have enough time; but even when I do have a spare moment, I feel compelled to do something, whether it's reading about health issues in rural Mozambique, calling an old friend or practicing a Paganini caprice. I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with these activities, but it bothers me sometimes that I'm wired to feel that I must be doing something "productive" whenever possible.

So I'm still trying to determine what my partitions should be. Prayer? Exercise? Music? Meditation? Just forcing myself to not do anything?

It reminds me a bit of rests in music. When I was younger, like most inexperienced musicians, I considered those squiggly marks a test of my patience, telling me how long I had to wait before I could play the next note. They were nothing, an insignificant duration of orchestral accompaniment, perhaps, in contrast to notes, which were something. It took several years and the unending patience of Mr. Rubin for me to fully understand that rests are not merely the absence of music but rather the crucial space that delineates individual notes and phrases. Rests are what allow for clarity, anticipation, suspense, definition, call and response, and reverberation.

As I figure this all out, I imagine—and hope—that quiet reflection, in the same way that individual wrapping on chocolates provides an extra decision point and reduces overeating,  can help me cut back on overconsumption and overexertion in my daily routines.

And conversely, for the most positive areas of my life, perhaps training myself to press the pause button regularly will provide new opportunities to soak in the goodness while becoming a more thoughtful, conscientious and grateful person in the process.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blumen, Laub und Lieder

Trees in bloom behind Steinbach Hall
Schöner Frühling,
komm doch wieder,
Lieber Frühling, 
komm doch bald,
Bring' uns Blumen, 
Laub und Lieder,
Schmücke wieder 
Feld und Wald!
Ja, du bist uns
treu geblieben,
Kommst nun bald
in Pracht und Glanz,
Bringst nun bald
all deinen Lieben
Sang und Freude,
Spiel und Tanz.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reasons to Learn Portuguese

Over the past two years, many friends have asked me why I decided to learn Portuguese. I'll share a few compelling reasons below:
  1. Referred to as the language of Camões, Portuguese is beautifully melodic. Brazilian writer Olavo Bilac once described it as "a última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela (the last flower of Latium, wild and beautiful)."
  2. Os Lusíadas
  3. With around 240 million speakers, Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world. Lusophone countries include Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe, as well as territories such as the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Macau, India's Goa and Kerala states, and the town of Melaka in Malaysia.
  4. I didn't want to learn French.
  5. Brazil, represented by the first letter in BRIC, is currently the eighth largest economy in the world and is expected to become the fourth largest by 2040, leapfrogging the economies of Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
  6. Bossa nova and fado
  7. Gisele Bündchen

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Brazilian Psycho

    "Os alunos do Português 140 e os nossos amigos brasileiros, que estudam em Yale, orgulhosamente apresentam uma pequena amostra da obra de Jô Soares, O Xangô de Baker Street."

    The cast

    P.S. Dear NBG, 왜 이렇게 속 썩이니?

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Inhibitory Spillover

    In case you thought cognitive scientists had no sense of humor, here's the abstract of an amusing study published this month in Psychological Science.

    Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains (Tuk et al., 2011)
    Visceral states, such as hunger and sexual desire, can affect how people make decisions. But would a visceral factor associated with inhibition, like controlling a full bladder, affect decision making? Using four different experimental situations, researchers tested how university students would perform in decision-making tasks after they had a large drink (high bladder pressure) or a small drink (low bladder pressure). They found that individuals who had greater urination urgency had decreased response times, and they were more likely to choose long-term rewards over short-term rewards in decision-making tasks. These findings suggest that the inhibitory signals from increasing levels of bladder pressure could transfer to other domains, thereby improving impulse behavior in unrelated domains.
    Conclusion: Don't use the restroom before making important decisions...?

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Spotted in the Dining Hall

    "Korean Spiced Pork Chops"

    Many of you know that I normally don't eat pork. But when I saw this label advertising the flavors of the fatherland, suffering from the effects of gochujang withdrawal, I decided to take a leap of faith and tried a bite of this purportedly "Korean" pork chop. I'm sorry to report that there is hardly anything "Korean" about these dry slabs of meat. 나라망신...

    Dear Yale Dining, please stop slapping random ethnic labels on your menu. (I'm also a bit suspicious of the "Slow-Cooked Moroccan Stew" and "Haitian Chicken Thighs.")

    The dining hall food is generally best when simple and unambitious. Like the delicious cranberry spinach salad. Or, on a less virtuous note, the plain organic brownies: 200 calories of pure, artery-clogging goodness. (According to yaledining.org, they should be making their next appearance this Thursday!)

    Lux et Boricha

    Made it to Stillness and Light last night for the first time this semester. Dear comrades, if you've never been, it's definitely worth checking out. Once described as "the last bastion for quiet at Yale," it makes you realize how incredibly rare true silence is at a place like Yale and how replenishing a moment of silent reflection can be. Plus there's boricha. The event is held daily, including weekends, from around 11 pm to 1 am in Battell Chapel—let me know if you'd like to go together!

    In other (significantly less calming) news, Mozambique is the latest to be added to the EU aviation blacklist due to "significant safety concerns." Have I mentioned that Mozambique government-operated LAM is the only airline that flies between Maputo, the capital, and the northern city of Nampula, where I need to be in August? VDM much?

    Moçambique: Vem pelo caju, fica porque não pode sair?

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    The Whitest Letter

    Durfee: Come for the pumpkin spice pancakes, stay for the salad.

    A cool cell phone commercial Scott showed me:

    Ein äußerst unproduktiver Tag. Portugiesisches Theaterstück, indisches Essen, japanische Räucherstäbchen. Interessante Musik und ein Geruch meiner Vergangenheit. Das Leben ist gut.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    잠이 오지 않을 때에는

    This is the first piece on my "Insomnia" playlist: the second movement of Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, II. Andante assai. I don't think there's much need for explanation, but here's a link to program notes from the San Francisco Symphony website.

    For those curious, the recording above is of violinist Zino Francescatti with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos on October 27, 1952.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Karl V

    Charles V is said to have declared, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse." Having been cultivated by a series of German tutors to possess a healthy disdain for Franzööösisch, I must respectfully disagree with the Holy Roman Emperor on this point.

    I think that, in a perfect world, I would speak German to God, Portuguese to women, English to men, Spanish to children, Korean to friends, and Chinese to soldiers (and maybe French to the infirm, if I spoke that langue d'oïl).

    Listening to:
    "Águas de Março" - Elis Regina e Tom Jobim

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Mussa Ben Mbiki

    The last time I had a conversation that lasted for more than two hours:
    Booking a flight to Mozambique.

    To be fair, I accidentally called the domestic reservations number and had to be transferred to international, and another decent chunk of the 2:07:41 was spent on hold. It also didn't help that several routes are monopolized by state-owned carrier Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique. Plus I wanted an overnight layover in Munich on the way over.

    Two hours later, I received my reservation:
    Houston - Frankfurt - Munich - Johannesburg - Maputo
    Maputo - Johannesburg - Dakar - Washington, D.C. - Houston

    (Still have to book Maputo-Nampula...)

    But now I'm reading that Dakar/Yoff has been rated the worst airport in the world, a "filthy, two-story chamber" offering "only squalor, an unnerving sense of confinement, and to some extent danger"; I'm considering calling back and trying to change my return flight to Nampula - Johannesburg - Dubai - Houston.

    Hopefully it doesn't rank as the second-longest conversation of my telephonic life.

    Update 9:25 PM
    New return flight: Maputo - Johannesburg - London - Houston

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011


    "On This Island"

    Look, stranger, on this island now
    The leaping light for your delight discovers,
    Stand stable here
    And silent be,
    That through the channels of the ear
    May wander like a river
    The swaying sound of the sea.

    Here at a small field's ending pause
    Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
    Oppose the pluck
    And knock of the tide,
    And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
    -ing surf, and a gull lodges
    A moment on its sheer side.

    Far off like floating seeds the ships
    Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
    And this full view
    Indeed may enter
    And move in memory as now these clouds do,
    That pass the harbour mirror
    And all the summer through the water saunter.

    - W. H. Auden

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Prospect Theory

    Once in a blue moon, it is possible to stumble upon a course at a liberal arts university that teaches lessons useful outside the realm of cocktail party conversations and philosophical debates (not that there's anything wrong with either). Below is a brief (and hopefully instructive) summary of one such example from a recent lecture on prospect theory in MGT 562 Behavioral Perspectives on Management.

    (Feel free to skip to the end of the post for tips on how to maximize your utility without the background explanation.)

    Prospect theory describes how people make choices in situations that involve risk based on subjective evaluations of potential gains and losses. Developed as an alternative model in 1979 by cognitive scientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, prospect theory is descriptive rather than normative, i.e., it reflects real-life behavior. This stands in contrast to the traditional expected utility hypothesis, which presupposes the rationality of individuals with well-defined preferences acting optimally to maximize expected utility.

    Prospect theory value function
    Outcomes termed in gains (concave, risk-averse) and 
    losses (convex, risk-seeking) from a reference point

    According to prospect theory:
    • Gains and losses relative to a reference point
      • People are risk-seeking in the domain of losses and risk-averse in the domain of gains.
      • People are sensitive to even arbitrary reference points.
      • People spend gains faster than recovered losses.
      • People are highly sensitive to small stakes.
    • Diminishing sensitivity
      • Value function concave for gains, convex for losses.
    • Loss aversion
      • Disadvantages relative to a reference point are given greater weight than advantages relative to a reference point.
      • Negotiators overvalue what they give more than what they get.
      • Price increases often have a greater effect than price decreases.
    • Probability weighting
      • Tendency to overweight very small probabilities and underweight larger probabilities. 

    As those of you with exposure to behavioral economics or applied psychology probably know already, prospect theory helps explain phenomena ranging from the framing effect to risk aversion. Prospect theory also accounts for human behavior that appears inconsistent with standard economic rationality, including the equity premium puzzle, status quo bias, gambling situations and the endowment effect. In short, the theory is nothing less than a descriptive model of human decision making that has transformed the study of modern economics and psychology (and it's no wonder that Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in Economics for this work.)

    Rather than elaborating further on the nuances of the value function, I'll go ahead and list several actionable lessons that correspond to the principles above:
    • Actively shift contexts when deciding how much you value something because the way we subjectively frame an outcome or transaction affects expected utility.
    • Integrate losses and segregate gains. People show diminishing sensitivity to increased gains and losses, so it makes sense to lump losses, assuming they are unavoidable, to minimize negative value and to segregate gains to maximize positive value (within reason, of course). It really does seem to be the little things in life that matter, at least according to Kahneman and Tversky. (This is also part of the reason that rebates are effective—they can be seen as a separate gain rather than the reduction of a loss.)
    • When possible, give people certainty (and keep in mind that people are relatively insensitive to shifts in uncertain probabilities). Imagine you are compelled to play Russian roulette and can pay some amount to remove one bullet from the gun, which currently holds a total of six bullets. Would you pay more to reduce the number of bullets from four to three or from one to zero? There is a premium for certainty (appropriately termed the certainty effect). 

    "But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?"
    - Albert Camus

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    콩나물 Song

    In honor of 寒食, here's a hilarious celebration of kongnamul by Korean singer 아이유:

    Perhaps an 애교 overload...but how can you not love a winsome ditty praising the refreshing crunchiness of bean sprouts?

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    If You Watch It Backwards

    A few favorites from ifyouwatchitbackwards.com:

    If you watch Jersey Shore backwards, you see the entire United States become smarter.

    If you watch Santa Claus backwards, you see a festively dressed, obese, thief of the night, with abnormal abilities to steal peoples Christmas presents at astronomical speeds. Going nation to nation via reindeer.

    If you watch Mulan backwards, it’s the story about a great war hero who goes back home and gets a sex change.

    If you watch Titanic backwards, it’s about underwater people repairing a ship with an iceberg so that they can sail to England.

    If you watch The Biggest Loser backwards, it’s a bunch of people losing endurance and racing to gain weight.

    If you watch Michael Jackson backwards, it’s a miracle story of a rich white pedophile who magically transforms into a sane black man.

    If you watch 300 backwards, King Leonidas helps the messenger out of the well with his foot and tells him "SPARTA IS THIS!"

    If you watch the 2008 Olympics backwards, it's really about Michael Phelps giving a bunch of medals to Chinese people. What a philanthropist.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Sound the Retreat

    What I learned this weekend:
    • Homelessness is not funny.
    • There are two categories of cookies: solid and liquid.
    • KG's hips don't lie.
    • Wolves are actually cats.
    • A cup of sand is worth its weight in...sand.
    • Even guidos can be cold.
    • "Knowledge accruement" is both a voyage and a ballot.
    • Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he.
    • Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation.
    • 36 fried eggs = 3600 calories.
    • It takes about three hours to get from the Jersey Shore back to New Haven, give or take a tow truck, two trains, three trains and five hours.
    • Nobody's a cowboy forever.

    Listening to:
    DDR (East German) National Anthem Techno Remix

    « Wenn wir brüderlich uns einen,
    schlagen wir des Volkes Feind. »

    Friday, April 1, 2011


    In a moment of sleep deprivation-induced weakness, I dropped by Blue State Coffee (mum's the word!) for a caffeine fix this afternoon. And I have to admit that they serve an excellent caffè freddo—for $3, you get a potent shot of espresso shaken with ice and enough syrup to induce a healthy dose of guilt.

    After downing the icy shot, I headed back to my room to watch, as an assignment for Portuguese class, Posthumous Memories (Memórias Póstumas), the 2001 movie based on Brazilian author Joaquim Machado de Assis' novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas. Fortunately, I was able to find a copy of the movie online; unfortunately, it comes with Spanish subtitles, which are similar enough to the spoken Portuguese to be distracting, especially for the bilingual viewer.

    "A imaginação foi a companheira de toda a minha existência, viva, rápida, inquieta, alguma vez tímida e amiga de empacar, as mais delas capaz de engolir campanhas e campanhas, correndo."
    - J. Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro