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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Andrew Wiles' Pursuit of Fermat's Last Theorem

Stumbled upon this documentary today and was moved. Perhaps it is because these past two weeks have just been a barrage of math, and I know how difficult even simple proofs can be. And what this guy did was seriously no simple problem.
And then there is Andrew Wiles, the frail knight who for seven lonely years pursues the proof that has ensorcelled him since childhood. He announces the proof to the world, is featured on the front page of the New York Times and in People Magazine, he has the respect and admiration of his colleagues and then he discovers the proof is wrong.  He works another year trying to fix it but every time he patches one area another fault line opens up. Even speaking of it now you can see and hear his utter despair.  It is not too much to imagine that he was on the verge of a breakdown.  Unforgettable.

From Marginal Revolution.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Never Ending Debate About English and Tagalog

I want to end it. I have an experiment in mind. Why not randomly assign public schools in the Philippines to either have curricula that has focus on English or Tagalog. Let them carry out the curricula for some years. Then collect data on outcomes from students in these schools.

If curricula were truly randomly assigned, then there would be no observable and unobservable difference between schools assigned to either curricula except for the fact that one had an intense focus on English and the other in Tagalog. Because of this, we would be able to determine the pure effect of having instruction in either language.

Then we could provide scientific evidence on important questions that ask whether mode of instruction improves employment outcomes, wages, etc. I wonder whether the DepEd would take up this offer or would even be interested in such an evaluation.

We keep switching curricula with no evaluation plan. In a sense, we are already experimenting. The experiment I have in mind doesn't even need to be implemented nationally.

Monday, August 16, 2010

And the Madness Begins

Today, I begin my PhD. In the next year or so, professors will try to cram, the last 50 years of knowledge in economics and mathematics into the heads of us poor PhD students. Math (military) camp just started a while ago. There will be a whole month of this for four hours a day. A problem set is due tomorrow. Off we go.

My former boss warned me a few days ago that some time this year, I will wake up and ask myself why I am doing this. When that happens, he says, just put it away and keep pushing.

I'm trying to keep the bigger picture in mind, always. They say doing the PhD is not about the grades, but about the one hell-of-a-good paper you are able to produce after the whole thing. And you only need one. So while I expect the math majors to dominate this first year, I am looking to get the upper hand in having creative ideas ready when the second and third years come around.

Michigan is amazing. I relish the opportunity to be in an environment where scholarship is strongly valued. I cannot even count how many libraries there are (which are open until 2am!). And I like how the professors here, at least the few that I've interacted with, treat me as a colleague and not as a student. I look forward to writing cutting edge papers with them. It's cool to be smart here... there is some way I just don't get this feeling as much in Manila.

Blogging has been few and far between these past couple of days, owing to the lack of internet access at home. But I've been reading at a feverish pace, and I've been learning a lot, so I hope to get back to sharing soon.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Links I Liked

1. US unlocks $434 million in aid to the Philippines. I'm glad to have had some hand in this as I worked closely with the MCC country selection team this year. RP was always a threshold case but I'm glad they've finally approved our compact.

2. Where are the billionaires? The Philippines has 3.

3. On university websites: what they display vs. what we look for.

4. "If you want to destroy something in this life, surround it with walls." Great TED talk by Elif Shafak.