Friday, August 29, 2008


We finished math camp by proving Sperner's Lemma to in turn prove Brouwer's Fixed Point Theorem.

Now, I certainly can't reproduce either of these proofs from scratch, though I can follow them. However, it was first proved in 1924, making it the second-oldest result whose proof I understood. The oldest would be proving that the set of differentiable functions is meager in the space of continuous functions, which stems from 1931.

Curse that the course in math history was never offered during my undergraduate years. Oh, and before I get too big of myself, Sperner proved it when he was 19.


Suppose that Rochester is the 20th-ranked economics department in the United States. Further assume that the admissions process does a pretty good job of sorting the "best" students - the most able, most driven, whatever - into the "best" schools.

Now, making the reasonable assumption that talent is distributed evenly across academic disciplines, I count the following subject areas: biology, bioscience, chemistry, computer science, economics/business, engineering, health science, history/geography, geology/environmental science, language/linguistics, law/journalism, math, music/arts, philosophy/religion, physics, psychology/political science, sociology/anthropology/gender, ethnic and cultural studies, writing/literature.

Now, obviously you can quibble with my attempted division of all graduate areas of endeavour into equal-size groups, but let's say there are 17 other areas of roughly equal size to economics and business doctoral students. Finally, in our long list of huge assumptions, let's say the average yearly entering doctoral class in each of these areas is 25.

Then 19x17x25 = 8075. So this year's class at Rochester are on average about the 8000th best commencing graduate students in the US this year.

Note that we don't need to be too concerned about variance, unless it's very heteroskedastic, because underachievers/those improperly sorted into top programs will be cancelled out by overachievers/those improperly sorted into lower-ranked programs.

Now, I'm tempted to argue that economics students have on average better GRE scores than most other subject areas, but a lot of the listed subjects don't require the GRE...we'll leave it for now.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


When asked what area of economics I enjoy the most, I often point people toward the RePeC list of new papers on technology and industrial dynamics. As I've mentioned before, this is my favourite economics textbook.

Anyway, here's an interesting result:
[D]omestic R&D intensity has no statistically significant impact on MFP [multifactor productivity] growth.

This result comes from analysis of Belgian data. I would hypothesize that domestic R&D activity does indeed have negligble effect in small open economies in terms of productivity - they can basically free-ride on the rest of the world, but this ignores immediate two points, there are probably more.

One, a country may have a unique specialized industrial cluster. The Canadian example would be the tar sands. I do not know for sure, but I suspect that since these are such a uniquely Canadian story, their productivity has grown more or less grown in step with domestic research advances.

Second, there are of course positive externalities from all scientific endeavour. Even if domestic research isn't a substantial fraction of world research, having local expertise would presumably encourage the creation of local high-technology enterprise, for example.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rochester Math Camp

Here are the notes we're using for math camp. Rudin as the primary reference. Nothing substantial that I hadn't seen before, so I'm feeling okay - though I'll be damned if I can prove anything using the topological definition of continuity, but I digress. Classes start Tuesday.

Anyway, my fractured teeth have been mended via resin restoration, which allows me to riddle you this:
Four-minute CT scan: $807.
Twenty minutes for a medical student to cleanse wounds, apply antibiotic and bandaids: $677.
One hour for two dentists to cap two chipped teeth: $282.

Endless confusion: priceless?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Last Millenium's Textbooks

I've been idly staring at the pile of fresh textbooks arrived from Amazon, and it's hard to chase away from my mind that they're all old. The micro standard, MWG, is thirteen years old. Stokey/Lucas/Prescott is 19! Ljungqvist/Sargent is slightly better at 8, revised in 2004. Amemiya's Advanced Econometrics is older than I am, at 23!

I realize the latter is not a standard text (Wooldridge is also on the list, published 2001), but it's not exactly a collection of books which could embrace the cutting edge, especially factoring in that writing a book takes time - the draft of MWG was certainly not begun in 1995, for example.

Anyway, figured I'd throw that out there. To be sure, I don't know 99% of what's in these books, so I can't say too too much.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Commodity Price Volatility

One thing that has confused me is the heteroskedastic tendencies inherent in the time series chart for oil, copper, etc, etc, etc. Surely in a world where information has become more and more plentiful, shouldn't market participants move closer and closer to the Hotelling solution?

It just struck me that while information certainly has increased, the ability to react to said information has increased by a much larger factor. Setting a computer program to automate trades, being in constant contact with the rest of the world via telecommunications, so on and so forth - growth in capability to adjust to new information must have exceeded the growth in acquiring information.

Ergo, more volatility. At least, I'm satisfied.

Unfortunate Knowledge

Today I learned that not only are scholarships, fellowships, and the like in no way exempt from income tax in the US (unlike in Canada), but that there is no basic minimum deduction built in to the US tax code.

It seems ridiculous that someone earning $9342 would be on the hook for $1000 in federal income tax. (Base for author's calculations.) The figure for Canada is $16,267 - not including the fact that scholarships get some tax protection back home.

Clearly there's something I'm missing here, since I'm sure that nowhere near that amount is remitted to the IRS by people earning that little. The Earned Income Tax Credit explains those with children.

Anyway, looks like I'm going to end up unwillingly contributing far more to the American government than I ever gave to Ottawa - not that the latter was much larger than epsilon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things That Are Stupid

Canadian citizens are eligible to exchange their old driver`s licence for a New York one within the first thirty days of residence. This requires a social security number.

It is impossible to obtain a social security number within the first thirty days of residence.

Have started math camp, nothing shocking so far.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Customer Service

So I ordered a small, cheap TV online from Circuit City. It showed up in less than 20 hours.

Back home, I used to frequently order books. Those always took about two weeks. Guess being in the centre of a large population area has benefits.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On Melons

Watermelons in Labrador, specifically. Only $55.41 per!.

Hard to believe that a house in Detroit can cost less than a watermelon, but capitalism doesn't care what you think, only what your wallet is willing to spit out.

Note that that is the government-subsidized price to help preserve heritage traditions or somesuch. There is of course no "right to cheap watermelons" or anything of the sort, especially living in the Arctic Circle, no more than there is a "right to ice palaces" while living in Vancouver.

That being said, providing subsidized food might reduce future health care costs, but the numbers are obviously unknown. Either way, this example shows why cities are the way of the future - economies of scale are pretty awesome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008


Unlike the majority of the world, I did not watch the opening ceremonies in Beijing, and remain disappointed that we didn't get at least one high-profile athelete withdraw. Though I certainly wouldn't have, had I a ticket.

Hopefully I will have a New York State drivers' licence Monday, social security application in Tuesday. It would be great if I didn't kill myself with the natural gas stove before then.


I've been trying to consummate a wire transfer from Toronto Dominion back home to Chase here in the US. While TD has been generally unresponsive, the Canadian dollar is off 2% in the interim. Makes a difference.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


According to this calculator, this blog is worth $1708.20. Conversely, my present value calculations, given that I've been running those ads for over a year, indicate the blog is worth $165.06, and that's infinite-horizon. And that assumes providing new content is costless!

Not that I ever expected to profit from text ads, the statistics are just interesting, so don't feel compelled to click! I suspect the readerbase is too net-savvy to even notice them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Paper?

Estimate the statistical value of a life using comparable methods across different countries. Correlate with the literature on happiness. Find interesting result?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rochester Crime

The city, frankly, isn't entirely safe. If I was, say, ten blocks to the northwest of my current location, I'd be scared. However, the university (located on the Genesee River) is pouring money in to try and gentrify the far side of the river. Things are changing here, and the giant Sheraton going up across the street is proof.

the statistics:
-1.26 violent crimes per hundred people, American national average is 0.54 (2006)
-Murder rate is 39 times higher per capita than Newfoundland

Enough said, right? It's not good. That being said, I don't feel unsafe or anything. The city is very much split along certain lines, the Genesee River definitely being one. It's unfortunate.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Rochester Tidbits

Customer service has been almost uniformly superb.
Food is approximately 40% cheaper than home. Household furnishings, probably 30%.
My neighbourhood is approximately 99% black. It's weird being the only caucasian in a busy supermarket.
The other white guy lives across the hall and starts his PhD in economics in two weeks. His preparation makes me feel inadequate.
I am now a member of Chase Bank. I find it hard not to think of them as JP Morgan Chase.
You need a social security number to obtain a US credit card.
I have never seen worse urban sprawl. This is truly horribly magnificent. Sidewalks are positively endangered. I am now the proud owner of an air conditioner for the first time in my life.
Farenheit, miles, ounces, and the rest of that obsolete system need to be wiped out.
I've seen one Obama sign, zero McCain.
The houses here are absolutely massive. The median house size here would be in the top 5% in St. John's.
I was awoken last night at 2am by a wedding party enjoying a bagpipe solo. Took four songs for them to shut up.