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This Blog Has Moved! August 1, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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Brain Drain continues at:

http://brianbelen.blogspot.com

Which is where it began, really. This was just the mirror site. Being on WordPress was a blast, but I need to simplify.

Kindly update your bookmarks and feeds accordingly.

Thanks for reading.

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Why Nobody Likes You July 14, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Show and Tell.
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Just because I feel a little mean today, I dedicate this to all the small-minded people I have ever met. For embodying those two traits so well, this one’s for you.

(With deep admiration for Jessica Hagy’s Webby-worthy work at Indexed. Is it obvious it’s on my RSS pull list? I came up with this one on my own, though.)

Life Is July 8, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, The Daily Grind.
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Life is good.

Life is hard.

Life is cruel.

Life is unfair.

Life is complicated.

Life is a mystery.

Life is messy.

Life is sweet.

Life is like a box of chocolates.

Life is about the journey, not the destination.

(Life is about the destination, too, actually.)

Life is what happens while you’re making plans.

Life is what you make of it.

Life is a grand adventure.

Life is all the colors of the rainbow.

Life is a gift.

Life is fragile.

Life is delicate.

Life is precious.

Life is sacred.

Life is beautiful.

Life is.

All of the Above July 2, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Show and Tell.
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I don’t consider myself particularly religious, but I do try to do right by my Catholic upbringing. In that respect, whenever I go to hear mass, I look forward to getting some time to think and reflect upon what’s going on in my life.

Sometimes, however, I find it hard to do just that. I kneel down to pray and realize I don’t even know where to begin. In those instances, maybe out of frustration if not resignation, my default starting point is “All of the Above.”

Oddly enough, it helps. For me anyway. When it does, the momentary peace that comes over me makes me realize what a wonderful and powerful thing it is to have faith.

Perchance to Dream June 29, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Presentations, Ramblings.
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It’s amazing how our dreams seem boundless in our youth. When I was very young I must’ve had a different ambition every week, if not daily. Who didn’t? One moment I might be imagining I’d be an astronaut (with lasers, natch!) when I grew up; the next I’d fashion myself a business tycoon. Or just as quickly I might fancy myself a race car driver, if not believe wholeheartedly that I could be a rock star.

It’s not just the longshots I dreamed up, but the absolutely impossible, too. For instance, a part of me believed — believed! — that I’d be a superhero one day. Or heck, I even once thought I’d be a star agent in the FBI…nevermind I wasn’t even an American and didn’t even live in the States!

It’s not that I was a stupid kid; at least, not more so than others. I’m sure everyone had imaginations equally absurd and amusing when they were young. No: at the root of this was the fact that at that age, anyone is so innocent as to believe that anything is possible. In my case, I’d say that in my naïveté, everything was.

Then somewhere along the way, I lost that naïveté. We all do. We begin to see the world as it is and start to learn what it is we can do, oddly enough, by learning what we can’t. Slowly, we begin to dismiss: first the impossible, then the improbable, then at some point even the fanciful and fun. I know I did. In fact, lately it’s struck me that I haven’t been dreaming big about, well, anything.

Only this isn’t entirely true either. Call it missing the forest for the trees: getting so caught up in the day-to-day and the to-do tomorrow/next week/next month/next year that it becomes hard to see beyond one’s nose sometimes. Unless you look hard enough, that is. Which I did. And what I found was somewhat odd.

Secretly, I’ve been dreaming of making the presentation of my life.

Maybe that makes me a pretty stupid adult. But I can’t deny it. I think the seed was planted back in college, where every so often I’d have to prepare a speech (or two or three) and find it oddly satisfying. I could do this, I’d think each time, and might even be good at it. So there was hope. But really, I didn’t have much reason to think more about it.

Later, I’d move on to teaching and was bitten by the bug again. It’s about this time, though, that I moved on from thinking I had potential for writing/speaking to consider I might have talent for presentation. All because I started to use slideware in class. There was the satisfaction I’d get from pulling off some trick with a slideshow that no one could figure out. There was the fulfillment of seeing students’ faces light up when — eureka! — they did get the point I’d been trying to get across, just because of how I presented it. Even now, having left that world behind, the feeling chases me, as when I deliver a presentation and everyone takes it for granted that I’d been working on it for days, precisely because of the polish.

I guess that’s why I take it very personally when something goes wrong when I present, no matter how small. What if that presentation was the presentation? Did I just blow it? Sometimes, all you get is that one chance to make any impression, so when I do make the presentation of my life, I’d want it to be unabashedly awesome.

Like I said: I’m probably a pretty stupid adult for thinking all this. And I clearly think about presentations a little more than is probably healthy. But I feel that if I had to I could put together and deliver a presentation that would make your jaw drop and knock your socks off. You know, like a presentation fit for TED.

If I’m gonna dream, might as well go all out, yes?

Actually, what’s funny is that I wouldn’t even know what this presentation of my life would be about. But in broad strokes: I’d want it to be personal, inspiring (I like to think I was inspiring once) and made of the sort of stuff that would make people change their lives. I’d deliver it in front of an insanely large crowd, one that would hang on my every word because I’d prepared so well. I’d connect with them, holding them captivated, and when I’d finish there would be tears, laughter, and deafening applause.

And to think: I’m not an outgoing person. I even have stage fright!

But hey, a guy can dream.

Life Balance Sheet May 21, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Show and Tell, The Daily Grind.
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Click the image to embiggen. Just a little something that came to mind. I’d say it’s worth thinking about.

I’m not an accountant, so if anyone has suggestions how to improve it (besides working on my handwriting), let me know.

Predictably Irrational May 18, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Academically Speaking, Books, Ramblings.
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Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsOne of the first classes I signed up for when I got to grad school was for a course on “Experimental Methods in Finance”. The course aimed to demonstrate how basic principles in finance (and by association, economics) could be understood through carefully designed experiments. The punch line, of course, was that the terminal requirement involved each student designing a financial experiment, putting this together as a paper that we would present to the class.

Even if we didn’t have to actually run the experiment, this was a challenge for me. Not having much experience in finance prior to then, I went about this requirement the only way I knew how: by hitting the books and reading up on other financial experiments (using the bibliographies of our class readings as my starting point). In the end, I settled on proposing a modification to a simple experiment I found in the literature, and thereby ended up doing rather well for myself in the process.

Looking back, I wish Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, had already been published. If it had been, it would have been a huge help at the time, and I suspect I would have been able to think up a much better experiment than I eventually did.

The subtitle to Predictably Irrational reads “The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions.” Indeed, what Ariely sets out to describe in the book is how human decisions oftentimes consistently deviate from the “rational” models outlined in traditional economics texts, recounting the results from a variety of economic experiments he and his colleagues have conducted in a variety of settings. As the title suggests, the conclusion he draws from these is precisely that there is a certain predictability to how irrational human beings can be, from which we are made to infer that the “rationality” often invoked in mainstream economic thinking can be seriously flawed.

Ariely is one of the foremost behavioral economists of his generation, and this book demonstrates why. It is very accessible reading material for what could potentially be a rather esoteric subject, describing experiments that aim to examine placebo effects (they’re real), how people react to prices are reduced to “free” (everyone loves free chocolate, don’t they?), and whether being reminded of the Ten Commandments induces people to behave honestly (it does!), among others. Granted, not all of these pertain to matters immediately within the ambit of the economics profession; nonetheless, the description of these experiments can be fascinating and does help serve the broader point that human beings may very well be predictably irrational.

At the same time, Predictably Irrational also demonstrates what I consider the shortcomings of economics by experimentation. For instance, one set of experiments described in the book involved understanding how people behave or make decisions when they are sexually aroused. I took exception to this, first owing to what the experiment entailed in terms of what willing volunteers were asked to do , and second because it seemed like an experiment that wanted to be provocative for the sake of being so. Call me prudish, but I think there are some lines that just shouldn’t be crossed even in the name of science.

Furthermore, later parts of the book (mine is the updated and expanded edition), where Ariely offers his two cents’ worth on the recent financial crisis, are arguably the weakest in Predictably Irrational. This is not because Ariely is a bad economist — which he’s not — but because it comes across as a token attempt to be current. The best parts of the book were precisely those that involved describing the different experiments Ariely and his colleagues thought up and the oftentimes surprising results that ensued. But to go from those insights to commentary about world affairs? That seems a bit of a stretch — to me, anyway.

Which, I think is the point. Looking back at that first grad school course I signed up for and the economic experiment it made me think up, what I appreciated the most was knowing that whether or not the result conformed with economic theory I would learn a little more about people and markets in the process. I did, and I feel all the better for it. In much the same way, that’s how I feel about Predictably Irrational.

Vote 2010 May 9, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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Aquino?

Estrada?

Gordon?

Madrigal?

Perlas?

De los Reyes?

Teodoro?

Villanueva?

Villar?

Pilipinas?

Yes.

‘Wichcraft April 27, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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Is it just me, or is it becoming harder and harder to find a good sandwich these days?

I’m not referring to sandwiches that taste good. Surely there are any number of places where you can find a sandwich that simply tastes sublime.

No: what I’m referring to are sandwiches that can actually be eaten well.

It seems to me that sandwich joints and delis are more and more concerned with putting together sandwiches without thinking about how their customers are supposed to eat them. Like the burger whose patty is so big you’d need flexible mandibles to make the first bite. Or the panini whose ingredients gradually spill out as you eat because it’s packed with all manner of good stuff. Or the sandwich that’s just so damn messy to eat that when whatever condiment its dressed with drips on you, you create an even bigger mess cleaning it up since you’re hands are just as soiled.

You know what I mean.

What strikes me as funny about this is that the regime of uneatable (but not inedible) sandwiches is taking place at a time when, in theory, sandwich-making can be approached with cookie-cutter ease. On the one hand, the equipment and ingredients to make sandwiches have never before been available on such a large scale. On the other, restaurants that offer sandwiches as their main fare thrive by streamlining processes for putting sandwiches together en masse, so you’d think they’d have an incentive to at least get it right. Yet they don’t. Frequently.

I submit the problem is misplaced priorities. Compared to full-blown meals, sandwiches are “fast food”; and the trouble is precisely that a premium is placed more on the “fast” and less on the “food”. And why not? The underlying assumption is that the ingredients are fresh and the overall recipe will taste good; thus all that’s left is a race to put it all together and get the sandwich into the diner’s hands. Yet nary a thought is given to how that person is supposed to eat it. Thus, the cycle of overlarge, mightily sloppy and downright messy sandwiches claims another victim.

Which is a pity. Dining is an experience — whether it’s a long drawn-out dinner or a quick bite in between meetings — whose enjoyment is as much about the aromas and flavors and presentation of the dish as it is affected by whether one had an easy enough time eating it. Yes, I know: when all is said and done nothing stops you from taking out a plate and utensils. But as far as I’m concerned, something in my head switches off at the thought of having to eat a hamburger sandwich on a plate with a fork and knife, regardless of whether the beef came from some place in Japan where the cows drink beer.

You don’t need to be an architect to design a good sandwich (though it stands to reason that it would help). It just takes some common sense, or at least enough to evaluate whether the sandwich one serves can be eaten easily and whether or not it will make a mess.

Coupled with a great recipe, that would be real magic.

Chopsticks January 27, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Up and Away.
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The wife prepared an oriental dish for dinner the other night, complete with a chopsticks-and-bowl table setting. This was both something different and a pleasant surprise.

“Dear,” I asked, “where’d you get the chopsticks?” These were the real deal and not the disposable stuff one can get from the supermarket; a nicely crafted wooden set with fine narrow tips. For some reason, I just couldn’t place where they came from.

“Don’t you remember?” she replied. “We got them in Singapore.”

So reminded, I did recall:

We happened to be passing by Takashimaya and discovered a display of Japanese crockery and china that appeared to be on sale. As we didn’t yet have a bowls and plates to match an oriental motif (you never know), the wife suggested it might be a good idea to see if there were any we liked. I agreed, and thus she set about to try and put a set together.

This task proved to be a little more involved than we anticipated, as the items were sold by piece — except for the chopsticks — and had different designs in varying amount of stock. So bowls, trays, chopsticks and all other manner of items had to be mixed and matched to get just the right look and feel for our liking. At first, it was enough for her to piece things together on her own, but soon enough it became necessary to invoke the assistance of a saleslady, who dutifully located, presented and returned items as she worked on the jigsaw puzzle of our imagined oriental table setting.

About an hour later, the wife happily presented her work: a setting complete with bowl, chopsticks and rest, lacquer tray, saucer and a quaint rectangular plate.

Now the set would have been perfect for our needs, except it didn’t make sense to just buy a setting for two or even four. Doing the logistics in our heads (rattling off the number of our family members and/or possible guests we could conceivably entertain at a time), whatever we got had to be a setting of six or more, preferably either suited to eight or twelve. And even then it would have been fine, nevermind the question of how to get it all home, were it not for the price.

All things considered, it was an indulgence we could put off for another time.

So we thanked the saleslady for her trouble, just settling for the set of chopsticks.

As I recalled all of this the wife got started with her meal, but not before quietly remarking, “That saleslady must have hated us.”

Quite right!