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Thursday, March 8th, 2007

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Scrappy day

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Oh, scrappy day.

I was distracted enough to miss my 1pm.  And that’s the least of it.

I’m going back to bed.  Wake me in the morning.

I want to see a full, high-quality video of the Viktor & Rolf show.  Pretty unbelievable – I want to see these clothes on some covers and editorials (like that Dolce and Gabbana dress that’s everywhere right now).

One step forward, two steps back

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

Today I spent about 9 hours working hard… so that I can now be 18 hours behind where I was when I started.  I spent the whole afternoon trying to fix an anomaly in my dataset – I did all kinds of fancy analysis, read a bunch of related papers, hunted for corroborating or better datasets.  Then at about dinner time I found the problem and it was frustratingly simple: I had switched “Thailand” and “Tanzania” by mistake. 


But after correcting that substantial error I then discovered that all my previous analyses and empirical results (for/from which I had produced all kinds of fancy figures, tables and discursive text) were completely wrong.  Which was horrifying, to say the least.  So in an attempt to save this key quantitative section, I went back through the literature and reconstructed a new independent variable measure to correct for the other systematic error I knew was in the dataset. 

By midnight this new, improved dataset revealed….  exactly the same results I had from before, virtually.  Except now I have to completely re-write the accompanying substantive sections as well as make new tables and figures.

Which is how I’m now 18 hours behind where I was when I started, 9 hours ago.

Haha, from the Chicago Manual of Style online:

“16.36  Avoiding overlong footnotes:  Lengthy, discursive notes should be reduced or integrated into the text.”


Testing, testing…

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Taking a little break to have some dinner at my desk.  I’m really just stalling on thesis work because I just spent all afternoon completing my dataset (for what I hope will be the last time, dear God) and I’m a little scared that the couple dozen new or revised observations will throw all my results off.  Eek.

Here‘s a slightly bizarre track: Avril Lavigne singing the Mandarin version of “Girlfriend”.  At least her accent’s pretty good, I think.

Beyoncé looks to be setting some kind of record by releasing a music video for every one of the tracks on her album B’day.  She spoke briefly about a bunch of them on TRL.  Newly released out of this bunch is the video for “Beautiful Liar”, featuring Shakira.  I mention the video only because it’s pretty cool how they made Beyoncé and Shakira look like twins.

Footnotes, This Month in Pop Culture, Oscar Style 2007

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Yup, this is going to be a long one.  But I’ll make it as brief as I can.

Brief, unlike the thesis footnotes I’ve been writing.  Yesterday, I spent just over two hours working on one part of my draft, and it went like this:

First five minutes:  I write a single, relatively unimportant sentence to support a sub-subclaim I want to make: “A simple scatter-plot of the same data with best-fit line indicates that this pair-wise correlation does not appear to be overly influenced by outliers, as seen in Figure 2*[26].” 

Next two hours:  I write Footnote 26, which is currently over 500 words long, and takes up about three quarters of that page.

Conclusion: I’m never going to finish writing this…!!!

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this continuously pressé.  Every day it feels like I’ve committed some awful crime and I’m just doomed to waiting to be caught…  the awful crime being not having already completed my thesis, of course.  Quelle horreur!

Miscellaneous (American) pop-culture observations for February 2007, aka “American Femininity” month:

(1) This seemed to have been a month of unsually high visibility for lesbians.  You had Ellen Degeneres hosting the Oscars, with her partner Portia de Rossi naturally making an appearance on the red carpet and at the after parties.  At the same Oscars, Melissa Etheridge performedI Need to Wake Up“, a song she wrote for the film An Inconvenient Truth, inspired she said by Al Gore’s message about the need to address climate change.  When the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song a little later, Melissa jumped up, kissed her partner Tammy Lynn Michaels and in her acceptance speech proceeded to thank her “incredible wife Tammy” and their four children.  On a related note, I have to say that I was extremely confused when reading this article from People covering the birth of Melissa and Tammy’s twins back in October last year.  I still can’t figure out exactly what the quote “these are our first two babies conceived together” means, from a clinical/genetics perspective…

(2) The national spotlight this past month was also cast a little further afield on motherhood in general.  Between Anna Nicole Smith’s unexpected death and Britney’s unexpected episodes, I’d say the outlook on all-American motherhood is looking a little tainted right now.  This is in contrast to last year, say, when we had periods of focusing on women like Nancy Pelosi (raised five children before running for office at 47!) or Angelina Jolie and Madonna’s admirable adoption decisions. (All this is in even starker contrast to last year’s focus on fathers, like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt who both became new dads.)

PS: And as a tenuously related bizarre pop culture “event” around women, let’s not forget about NASA astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak…

I’m going to quickly wrap up with my Oscars 2007 style observations:

(1) I feel bad for the women who wore things that the American public is unattuned to understanding (never mind liking).  I noticed in going through the “vote: love it or hate it?” slideshow on that I very clearly skew European when it comes to style.  I especially felt bad for the ladies who chose Valentino (Anne Hathaway, Zhang Ziyi, Cameron Diaz), whose signature ruffles and bows are almost continuously reviled by the American public – although Cameron’s dress was admittedly not very flattering.  The same generally applies to people who wore this year’s Chanel (Kirsten Dunst, Penelope Cruz later in the night).  And of course I found Meryl Streep’s red carpet Prada ensemble both very witty as well as stylishly interesting (not to mention flattering), while most other viewers seemed to despise the look.

(2) In contrast, most voters seemed to love Liv Tyler in Marc Jacobs at the Vanity Fair party, which I did not.  So American. 

(3) I non-exhaustively loved:
On the red carpet: Jodie Foster in Vera Wang and Penelope Cruz in Versace… 
At the Vanity Fair party: Katie Holmes in Armani Privé and Natalie Portman in Lanvin…
Everywhere: Jennifer Hudson, whom I thought looked stunning throughout her multiple dress changes.

Writing this was relaxing.  Now back to work!  *feels shoulder muscles tensing*

Just back from a thesis meeting…

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Every day it becomes startlingly clearer that I am running out of thesis-writing time.  The panic feels almost palpable.  *heart pounds*

And right now I am mocked by the arrival of the huge Spring editions of the various glossy magazines to which I subscribe 🙁

Back to work.

PS: Given my recent discussions around social constructivsm as well as Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, this article from today’s Washington Post caught my eye.  The premise is clear from the article’s title: “Was Repressed Memory a 19th-Century Creation?”, and is based on work led by a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist that suggests that the repression of traumatic memories as a psychiatric disorder is a fairly recent “culture-bound syndrome”.  Somewhat unusually, the evidence cited is an extensive literary search that has as yet revealed no cases of traumatic memories being repressed and then later recovered prior to the 19th century.  This is unlike, say, cases of schizophrenia or depression that have been documented across cultures across a wide range of historical literature.


Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Yipes, we’ve had a pretty full day.

Surprise news from two friends.  Pretty surprising news – surprising enough that I felt glum and drained for a bit.

A surprise comment, much more pleasant of a surprise, although it made me feel a little bad too – this is why it’s easier to lavish praise than to give criticism, I think.  I’ll have to deal with it some other time though.

Almost all of my afternoon, evening and night was spent struggling with just one fiddly aspect of my dataset.  I feel like I just worked on a very hard, very long Ec problem set, and I’m *still* not done.   What’s particularly frustrating is that the cumulative 30+ hours that has been spent on just this single, very simple indicator will probably translate into an overlooked line in my thesis: “Data for per capita GDP measured in constant 2000 US$ was compiled for the respective country years (see details in Appendix II, Section b)”.

Arghgh.  Never mind that of course the countries I’m working with have terribly patchy, approximate or non-existant economic/demography/weather time-series data.  And that the different sources I’ve had to reconstruct my data from have used non-equivalent reporting choices and naming conventions.  Plus of course I’m not exactly an expert on how to interpret and manipulate PPP, constant/current LCU and deflators to get exactly what I want.  Trust me, it was a lot harder than it seems.  More accurately, it remains a lot harder than it seems – I’m not even done because I simply cannot get the figures for Afghanistan to look plausible so I’m clearly doing something wrong.

Meanwhile, in a much happier place (relative to where I am with work), Milan fashion week continues.  I haven’t had much of a chance to look through the collections, and womenswear is so impossible to keep abreast of anyway.  Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m impressed at how Miuccia Prada translated the vision she presented at her menswear show into womenswear, given how difficult that vision was (I especially remember the ultra-fuzzy, slightly boxy, enveloping sweaters and coats).  And Cavalli really surprised me with the direction he’s taking, further and further away from what he’s known for – I’ll have to look at the collection again to decide whether I prefer the new restrained and lady-like classicism to his more theatrical, super-glamorous previous work.  And Dolce & Gabbana!  Oh!  It was pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from that runway – super-strong, aggressively sexy, stunningly iconographic ensembles and dresses.  In contrast, the Gucci womenswear seemed much more subdued, and at first glance appeared to be missing some of the confidence of the menswear.

Time for bed.

The “Club Culture” Party pictures!

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007


(9 Feb 2007)

At long last I’ve gone through them and thrown a bunch of them onto Flickr…  although I haven’t labelled or captioned any of them.  I’m sad that I didn’t take more pictures at the CNY potluck dinner.  Oh well.

There should be a lot to say, but blogging seems a real luxury right now.  I had two thesis-related meetings today; wow do I have a lot of work left to do.  On an unrelated note, I hate being stranded away from my dining hall and missing mealtimes.  Prior to dinner at 5pm I had a banana, a serving of Lay’s potato chips, a slice of choco-banana bread (someone baked a loaf for HUCE!) and a milky mug of tea…  which was still probably about 800 KCal, but nonetheless didn’t feel very substantial.


PS: I cannot wait to throw more parties!!  Also, I’m excited to have my cousins visit in April!! *waves* 🙂

Happy CNY!

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

It’s the Year of the Pig, apparently.

My day started with an emergency admissions tour, which overran and made me a bit late for lunch, which lasted three hours, and then barely two hours of thesis dataset building before it was time to spend the rest of the night eating pineapple tarts and drinking green tea.

I’m glad Xue decided to hold a dinner party – if not the rest of us thesis-trapped seniors would never have bothered.  There was yu sheng and everything, not to mention oodles of miscellaneous comfort food like roti prata and mee goreng.  I even brought home a tub of fried rice and roast chicken.  And the company was quite select as well.  A fun time all round.

I wish my dataset was more revealing…  gah.

The day after Valentine’s, and the big snowstorm

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Something I meant to write yesterday but put off in the rush to get a whole bunch of things done:

One of the many exceptional perks of working with/at HUCE is the fact that the space is frequently used for fancy faculty dinners and receptions for guest speakers.  What that means is that there is a steady influx of fancy finger food platters catered by the exceptional Formaggio Kitchen.  The thing is that professors and distinguished guests at events like these don’t usually spend much time sampling the fine cheeses, home-made paté and antipasto served.  Instead, they prefer to network, maintain their low-cholesterol diets and preserve their fresh breaths, all in the secure knowledge that a similarly delectable catered dinner will be served in a little bit (I forget the caterer HUCE uses).  What this ultimately means is that shortly after these events there is usually a plenitude of artisanal brie, fresh fruit, parma proscuitto, sliced baguettes, sweet pickled onions and whole grain mustard all laid out beautifully and left for the hungry (grad) students still lurking after hours.

Yum 🙂

PS: If you’re ever in need of speciality/gourmet deli products or catering in the Cambridge, MA area, I highly recommend Formaggio Kitchen (based on my familiarity with about half their exquisite speciality platters).

The weather was magnificent today.  Bright and hard edged with a refreshing chill.  What can be better than trenchcoat weather?  I guess perhaps beach weather – as we were walking out of class Prof G told me she was heading back to her apartment to pick up her bags and catch a flight to Puerto Rico for the long weekend ahead.  Although I only managed to say it in French to her at the time – Buon Viaggio!

I’m finally seeing some progress on the empirical end of my thesis, which is really good considering that I’ve essentially abandoned the qualitative part (gathering electronic dust in draft form) while working on getting data this past 9 days.  Which also means I should get back to work on that.

I received a surprise call from London today, which was pleasant.  I got to say pretty much all the things I’ve been meaning to write about, but haven’t had much a chance to given the swirl of events.  Having a semi-personal yet business-y phone conversation with someone you’ve never met is always going to be a touch strange though, given how difficult it is to guage the other person’s reactions, especially over the slight transmission delay.  I pray it went well, and came off favorably.

Back to the dataset.

PPS: Today was my first section meeting for Ec1010b, and it was held in a building I walk by all the time but never knew was a Harvard academic building.  Turns out the very nice space also houses the oh-so-niche Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies!  I’d heard recently that it’s the smallest concentration in the college – the department website lists a grand total of seven current undergraduate concentrators!