Archive for May, 2008

Sameer Mishra and Darryl Wu

Some kid named Sameer Mishra won the national Spelling Bee a couple of days ago. He is Indian. It occurred to me that there was definitely another Indian who won the Spelling Bee not long ago, so I looked it up. Turns out there were 4 in just the last 7 years, so Indians have pretty much taken over the contest. This article tries to guess why — I’ll defer my own explanation till later.

Then I decided to look at the other teenage academic contest, Mathcounts. A Darryl Wu won this year’s national contest. Obviously he is Chinese, but there has also been 9 Chinese winners in the last 12 years.

So there you have it, Indians and Chinese basically split the major academic contests at the secondary school level between themselves. What’s the explanation? Demographically, there has been a major explosion of educational immigration from both China and India since the late 1980s, and especially in the 1990s. This has resulted in a veritable brain drain in the home countries, but the side effect is that the second-generation Indians and Chinese growing up in the US are beginning to show what might be called the “disproportionality effect”: levels of achievement not matched by population numbers.

Of course, it’s the so-called “elites” that come to the US, but those countries have large enough base populations and enough reserve “elites” that what these kids achieve as they move through the US school system might just be a harbinger of what an undistorted, competitive world will look like in 20-50 years.

Sucks to be Northwest Airlines

For $20 you can SuperSize your next paid roundtrip on Northwest Airlines® , Northwest Airlink or KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and earn an additional 1,000 Bonus Miles*. These Bonus Miles are in addition to the regular credited flight miles you will earn for your paid travel.

Says a “special offer” on the Northwest Airlines web page. A bit of quick math shows that these days a frequent flyer mile is only worth between 1.5 to 2 cents when all is said and done, so this offer isn’t special at all. They must think we’re stupid. Or is this another way to boost revenue?
(Read the article)

funny money worldwide

The question came up about China being both a recipient and giver of foreign aid. Actually this happens with many countries. On the face of it, this seems like an absurd and illogical situation, but it brings up interesting questions about these funny money flows. To understand this, we need to look at these transactions beyond the mere exchange of money in the bank, and we need not stop with foreign aid.

When countries or individuals give, it is not a simple money transaction, but it is to fulfill some economic, political, social, or moral directive. Economically, a household or a country may be both an investor and a borrower, as this may improve the rate of return. Politically, a country may use aid for leverage, and aid in this case is simply a mediator of complicated leverage relationships that happen to have cycles. Socially, much the same happens, except in this case it is a mediator of social cohesion and community. Morally, the decision to give may be completely independent of one’s own financial condition, and hence there is no dilemma; an excellent example is that a street-begger may also give, and in fact people are often moved by this. Something less dramatic is more evident: by living in a community, everyone is receiving some form of services of value, but that does not prevent that person from giving.

Sometimes, direct money transactions given in numeric terms tend to obscure the above points that, in retrospect, seem fairly obvious.

geography from watershed divides

I like looking at topographical maps. I found it useful to study geography by looking at natural boundaries like watersheds and their divides. High ridges channel water in the valley between them, where civilization lies, and form boundaries between regions.

For example, continental US has a relatively simple topography characterized mainly by the Cascades-Sierras, the Rockies, and the Appalachian. Continental China, on the other hand, is a lot more complicated, unimaginably complicated, in fact, that it is almost incomprehensible when reading the profuse amount of written descriptions that exist. But I haven’t found a satisfactory visualization on a map, which is a shame, so it is time to make one.
(Read the article)