Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More Interesting Stuff

A couple days ago I started the Weight Watchers diet program. Weight Watchers is cool because it is based on a point system, where each food has a point value based on the amount of fat, carbs, protein, and fiber, and you can eat whatever food you want provided you stay under the target point value depending on your weight and activity level.

I just finished my classes, so no more tests or exams ever! But I still have plenty of work to do because I have to write a paper for a conference which is due on July 6, and then I have to expand that paper into a thesis which is due on August 8.

Today in the mall in Champaign I found a stall selling "Power Balance" bracelets which are similar to the bracelets I mentioned in the previous post in that they work by the placebo effect. They cost about $30, but you can save a lot of money and buy functionally equivalent "placebo bands" here.

Another thing I am planning to do more often on this blog is to post links to other web sites which I find interesting. One interesting web site I found is Cheap Talk, a blog written by two economists. They have lots of discussions of economic theory applied to a variety of topics including game theory and ticket scalping. (Under the "game theory" tag if you scroll down you will see a post called "how to get bumped" about how to score free airline tickets, and below that is one about ticket prices in restaurants which is also interesting.)

I just got an email asking me to support Illinois athletics by switching my energy provider to "Fighting Illini Energy." One of the options that they say they offer is the ability to choose a plan that provides 50% or 100% of your energy from renewable energy sources. (What does that even mean? I mean, isn't electricity fungible? All of it goes from the power plants, onto the grid, and then into your home. I didn't even think it was possible to track a particular "unit" of electricity from the power plant to your home.)

The gaming club on Saturdays at UIUC is still going on over the summer. Since it is summer the building we normally play in - the English Building - was locked so we ad to go into the student unoin. The only problem was that the area of the student union we played in had a TV tuned to MTV, so whenever a song came on that any of the other players had heard before, they would all start singing along and making lots of noise, and they kept doing that even after I asked them to stop several times. Apparently they thought it was funny. I think what I will do next time is say something like "Let's say you had a friend who was in a wheelchair, and you kept taking the wheelchair away so he couldn't get around. Now maybe you might think it was funny but probably he wouldn't think it was funny. So just like some people have a hard time getting around without wheelchairs, I have a hard time playing games when everyone is making lots of noise. Maybe you might think it's funny to make lots of noise so I can't concentrate, but I don't think it is funny."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weird Stuff

Today in the airport I saw a group of people handing out literature for the LaRouche movement. I've heard that the LaRouche movement is a bunch of kooks, but I was interested in learning more. Part of what they said made some sense, like how we should spend less money on the bailouts and more money on technology and infrastructure. But a lot of their literature descended into conspiratorial kookery, such as claiming that JFK was assassinated by "British Empire bank-connected assassins" for wanting to get us out of Vietnam, claims that White House science adviser John Holdren supports forced population control (no, he doesn't). But their literature also taught me something about science that I didn't already know: it talked about using electromagnetic fields to predict earthquakes, and I thought that didn't make any sense but I looked it up and it turns out there is scientific evidence for that.

Another thing sort of related - in the mall today I found a stall selling "negative ion bracelets" for $25. It is an ordinary rubber bracelet that (according to the person selling it) had a small amount of volcanic ash embedded in it to emit "negative ions" that supposedly improve your strength and balance. I asked for a demo and he gave me a "balance test" with and without the bracelet, but the bracelet didn't make much of a difference, which makes sense because there's no scientific evidence that the bracelets do anything. Also, it seems that the people who wrote the brochure about it didn't know much science either, because it said something like "negative ions are natural ... when water mist falls to earth, it loses an electron, which turns it into a negative ion." (Of course, electrons have a negative charge, so if the water "lost" an electron it would gain a positive charge.)


And also, something that might be interesting on the Internet - the web site I linked to above is part of a network of "Stack Exchange" web sites which allow you to ask questions and get and look up answers on a variety of topics - it started off with computer programming but on expanded into lots of other fields like math and statistics. It works a lot like Wikipedia in that it is entirely community driven where people post answers to and edit each others' questions.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Job Search Conclusion

So my long job search is finally over, and I got a job at Numerica Corporation. I had interviews at a couple interesting places. One was Two Sigma Investments, a financial company based in New York City. I got there a day before the interview, which gave me some time to explore the area. I tried to get a taxi to the Dave & Busters in Times Square, but I tried to get in a taxi and they said they didn't know where it was (even after I showed them the map on my iPhone.) I took a subway there but when I tried to go back, my phone was out of battery power so I couldn't use the GPS to find my way back. I again had no luck finding a cab, so eventually I had to go into a subway station and use the pay phone to call the hotel to get directions back. The next day I had my interview which ended early, so I got to use the extra time to go to a local game store. Then I got to the airport and the flight was delayed. The flight landed back in Chicago about two hours later, and I had assumed I had missed my connection so I used the rebooking phone to call for rebooking, and they said that the only flights they had were for two days from then. I decided instead to just stay in a hotel and take the train home the next morning, but while I was walking back to talk to the airline about reclaiming their backs I saw the departure board which saw the connecting flight was also delayed, so I was able to get on it and get home. Also, one of my professors was on that plane coming back from an NSF panel, and he took me home. Unfortunately I didn't end up getting the job.

Lots of interesting stuff happened on the interview for Numerica. My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 7:00 AM. I overslept and woke up at 6:30, and rushed out the door in the vain hope of getting to the airport in time. I got there at about 7:10 but fortunately the flight was delayed until that afternoon. I got rebooked on a 2:15 PM flight which gave me time to go back home, do some stuff at school that I needed to do, get the charge for my laptop (which I left at home), then go back to the airport. On the flight from Champaign to Chicago a different professor I know was also on this flight. I landed at the Denver airport and took a taxi out to Loveland. The hotel was next to a strip mall so I was able to go out to dinner and also finish up a presentation on my research, which I gave as part of the interview. The interview went vrey well. During lunch, I mentioned that I was interested in board games, and one of the people who worked there was also interested in board games and knew of some board game stores in the area, and offered to take me to them that evening. It was probably the best interview experience I have ever had.

So I decided to accept their offer, and I will be starting work by the end of August. I definitely think that stopping with a Masters degree rather than continuing with a Ph.D. was the right thing to do. I'll be able to continue doing what I love doing, and I'll also be making a lot more money than I am as a graduate student. I am not sure what I will do with all that money, but there are other people in this world who need the money a lot more than I do.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An unusual poster

For the past few weeks there has been a whole bunch of posters up in the Student Union that say "Rise Against Bad Religion." I assumed these were advertising some sort of protest march against religious extremism, but I was in the game store today and I heard people talking about it, and it turns out it was actually advertising a concert featuring the two bands "Rise Against" and "Bad Religion."