Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tagged, pinned, and forced to confess.

The well regarded McWooby has tagged me. I was shocked, because asking me to share five things that people don't know about me is hard (I don't really have a overwhelming sense of privacy - I'm a blabbermouth). Let me try:

1.) Most people know that I cheer for the Leafs, but they might not know that I now find the vast majority of memorabilia terribly tacky (no posters, bar chairs or stickers, please); on the other hand, no one has the right to sell or dispose of my McDonald's hockey card collection or my autographed Rick Vive picture.
2.) Although I have loved Tim's coffee for years, I have been switching to fair trade organic every chance I get. But I did have a Tim's today.
3.) I believe that there is a most efficient way to travel from A to B and that any conversation about how C is better is non-sense.
4.) I am rarely silent, and I avoid white noise.
5.) I am currently drinking some brandy, but just because I have some. I drank everything else in the house.

End of confession.

Understanding Happiness

For the first time in months I was able to have a relaxing Saturday morning (ok, it was two weeks ago now ...). I was neither so exhausted from the week nor rushing around to complete my list of tasks. I hope to have more mornings like this, if I can do it. You see, dear reader, it was not that I had an easy 5 X 9-to-5 or that the honey-do-list was finished, I just decided to stress less.

With a coffee in hand, I enjoyed Saturday's (May 31st) Globe and Mail. In particular, Margaret Wente wrote an article entitled: "The happiness ... gap" . As the title suggests, Margaret filled this week's commentary by given a punchy review of "Gross National Happiness", by Arthur Brooks (a political scientist, not an economist but we will not hold that against him ... much). The gap referred to in the title is about the happiness gap between US conservatives and liberals that has now lasted for at least a generation (note: this is not Canadian data and comparisons are limited, but ...). The conclusion that Brooks draws is that this gap is driven by marriage and religion. Although I believe that the book may be a stirring read (in other words, it might really make you mad! Like where is the economics eh?), I loved the way this article reads.

Let me share two parts of the article with you, and I hope you will read the rest:
The intro:
"Here's a bit of bad news for all my latte-loving, liberal-leaning friends who believe that jobs in retail stink, traditional religion is for morons, and income inequality has made society a lot worse off. You're a miserable bunch. "

A highlight:
Beyond marriage and religion?
"There's another factor, too, which, he argues, centres on world view. Conservatives generally believe that people who work hard can get ahead and be successful. They believe success is in their own control. Liberals are more inclined to believe in collective solutions to social problems – and that people's success depends on factors outside their control. 'I compared poor conservatives with rich liberals,' he told me. 'Ninety per cent of poor conservatives say that hard work and perseverance can overcome disadvantage. But only 65 per cent of rich liberals believe that.'"

What to take away from this article?
1.) Money (alone?) does not produce happiness (there is only marginal-to-no return beyond the median wage - aka having a decent security).
2.) The equality of opportunity is important to everyone (yeah education!).
3.) Happiness is U-shaped in terms of age (44 year old men cry like babies).
4.) Give away your money and time to find happiness.

Please share you thoughts.

Appendix: What about Canadians?
My favorite Canadian on this topic is John Helliwell. See this G&M article from last fall with some great economic analysis (ok, I can't resist sharing this): "Using Canadian survey data and some mind-numbing arithmetic, Helliwell and UBC colleague Haifang Huang were able to put a cash value on the effect of job satisfaction on general happiness. That number varies along a bell curve. But take, for example, a single employee who rates her job satisfaction a nine out of 10, and who makes $65,000 a year. Imagine some work-culture corrosion triggers a one-point drop in her job satisfaction. It would take an extra $30,000 a year to compensate for the negative effect this would have on her general happiness."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The tables have been turned

Now that all of students' marks have been finalized, I got my grade yesterday. It was not a review from the department chair, but rather from my students. The university asks students to fill out a standardized survey to provide feedback to faculty in conjunction with written comments. So, how did I do and what did I learn?

How did I do?
Find those alphabet letters (or other childhood fridge magnets) and post it on the fridge, I got a "G" or a "E" (a good to excellent rating). Yes! Better than expected. Out of the eight categories, I received an good to excellent rating, and matching most of the department mean scores. Yes, this was a pleasant surprise and, needless to say, much better than my first review. The best result, both in terms of above the department average and giving me the warm fuzzies, was students' response to: "The instructor showed genuine concern for students." = 70% of respondents said excellent.

What did I learn?

The lowest category was "The instructor was fair and reasonable in evaluating and marking student work". Now this seems somewhat in contrast to the above listed result, but it does suggest that I need to do a better job communicating my strategy. But wait! I have already told you about my complex insensitive structure ... (see earlier post). On second thought, this was done by students before they received their final marks, and I always wait to the end to adjust my grades (if required). Over the next few months I will find time to review my comments and these scores to improve my teaching. My next class starts in January 2009 (it will be here before we know it!).

I have been notified that I now appear on this infamous website ...

Monday, June 2, 2008

We can all swim in the Halifax Harbour!

Yes! This title is not an error. A study conducted by the CBC (see here ), proved that Halifax city council's prediction has come true. Well, at least I think.

According to the CBC, samples taken last Thursday from Black Rock Beach in Point Pleasant Park, the Dingle on the Northwest Arm, and Lions Park Beach in the Bedford Basin showed that bacteria levels (enterococci to be exact) were within acceptable levels according to Capital Health Environment Services Laboratory testing.

This finding is really surprising since the second plant on the Dartmouth will not be running for a few months, with a third treatment facility for Herring Cove will not be running until later this year.

Personally, I am not swimming until all three planets are up and running. Perhaps I will do the Polar Bear dig on New Year's Day - a tradition that was put on hold since 2000. Anyone else whan to join me? I am kind of excited.

Appendix: Taken from the CBC.
The safe level for swimming is 35 colonies per 100 millilitres. Anything below that is safe.
- The Dingle - less than 10.
- Black Rock Beach - less than 10.
- Lions Park Beach - less than 10.

Back on the blog again

I have once again failed to produce a constaint stream of postings for you, my dear reader (if you are still there!). But I am back. I am going to post a few items that have gabbed my attention over the last few months. They will be short and sweet, more of a FYI.

More to come ...