Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pelesir ke Pittsburgh

Here is eternal spring: for you
The very stars of heaven are new.
The lines from Robert Bridges' poem were wrought in steel on the gate inside the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. I considered the words then turned to Freida, telling her that technically, from the Earth all the stars that we see in the heavens are new. The old stars have burned out. Our Sun is a third generation star

She shot me a look, rolled her eyes, and scooted away. Sigh. So much for Learning.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Pride Month Reading, 2018

If you have at least one openly queer friend/colleague with whom you rarely discussed gender/sexual issues anymore because you've had this conversation years and years ago, it's often easy to forget that you are living in a bubble. You see queer representations (admittedly skewed towards able-bodied white cis gay men) regularly on the media and do not gag, you read the celebratory #Lovewins hashtags and your heart feels warmed, or you might have enjoyed the parading revelry as cities burst into colors for Pride Month. You are definitely living in a bubble.

I would know it, I live in it: Boston is one such bubble. (It's a pleasant bubble, mind you.)

And it was a pretty bubble, too. In June, downtown Boston hoisted rainbow flags on their buildings to celebrate the Pride month. On the 9th, the Boston Pride Parade went through Boston's major streets, and I got an excellent view from the BPL (Boston Public Library). Admittedly I only got to see the tail end of the parade, but as it were, it was really uplifting to see so many people in high spirit.

Inside the library, the BPL observed the Pride Month by showcasing a selection of their LGBTQ+ books on the first floor. They also published a list of their recommendation on their website. These were where I get most of the LGBT themed books that I read in June:

Friday, June 29, 2018

Fantasy/Science Fiction books I'm reading, June 2018

I started my summer holiday late as I needed to study for my qualifying exams in in early June (spring term classes were over since May). There were days when the prospect of being able to read whatever I want after the exams was what kept me going. So when my exams were over, I did the only thing fitting for a liberation: going to the library and get myself an armload of books. Here are what I have been reading this month, from the Fantasy/Science Fiction shelves.

Reading F/SF books is always a pleasure, and I'm mostly happy reading the above books. Sanderson is a favorite, and the collection of his short stories and novellas in Arcanum did not disappoint. I should make a separate post for this book. It also included an excerpt of White Sand, a graphic novel based on his story, which trade paperback volumes I immediately checked out from the library, too.

I end up not liking it: the artwork is gripping for the action sequences, which is how the first volume started, but the book very quickly degenerate into a really weak political plot. Maybe things are lost in the adaptation? Dialogues were very clunky, and the change of artwork in the final chapter of the second volume from messy lines (which I thought was rather fitting with the desert world) to clean art was really shocking. I also get a really strong Dune vibe from the story with the inconsequential political manoeuvring, which was Bad. Sanderson admitted as much in his foreword: it was one of his early works, and "it was hard to escape your influences as a new writer. The first draft of White Sand was one part Dune, one part The Wheel of Time, and one part Les Miserables." I hate Dune.

Why do I hate it? I agree with this essay on Iain M. Banks by Joseph Heath who argued it doesn't makes sense to combine feudalism with energy weapons. I shit talked about Dune forcefully enough to my friends that César had his reservations when he recommended Asimov's Foundation, which runs on the same vein: Take a social structure from the past (the Imperial Rome), but make the civilization space-faring.

I find it notably quaint for Asimov to think of the nuclear power as the pinnacle of mankind's technological progress, but much to my surprise I found it a very enjoyable read. It's short and the characters are naturally dispensable (the book covers a period of almost two centuries, so characters had to die anyway). I also enjoyed the way it explored the consequences of scientific regress that comes with the decline of an empire, and the expansionary force that religion and trade can exert to uncharted civilizations. Actually, this does come out like Asimov is taking a leaf out of the European colonization history, and maybe he did. At least the brevity and the straightforward writing kept it engaging.

Which isn't something that I can say for Perdido Street Station. It's nearly 700 pages long, and boy it was a slog. I heard about Miéville from Laurie, who read and liked his other books, but they weren't available in the library. I must admit that I immediately eyed the book with suspicion when I read in the inside flap that Miéville was "reading for his PhD at the London School of Economics"--I wondered if reading Perdido would be a leisurely activity at all.

My suspicion was largely right. For much of the first half of the book, I read but did not really get what's actually happening. Miéville seems to have a penchant for erudite words. Many argued that he wrote this novel with a thesaurus open. I think if he had to take a GRE for his graduate study--maybe he just wants to not waste all the fancy vocabularies he acquired for his test. It's the only way for me to rationalize prose like these:
The thing drew on the stored energy it had drawn from the dreamshit and powered its transformation. ... It folded on itself, shaping itself out of the protean sludge of its own base matter. ... After, ... there was a brief moment when the thing in the cocoon was poised in a liminal state. ... Isaac spent many hours watching the chrysalis, but he could only imagine the struggle of autopoiesis within. ... He spent his days soldering and hammering, attaching steam-pistons and thaumaturgic engines to the nascent engine. [Underlines added.]
That was from the beginning of chapter 21, page 246-267, when Things Finally Happens and Plot Is Moving At Last. Honestly with not much of a plot in the previous two hundred pages, reading it felt like reading Mas-Colell's Microeconomic Theory book. And at least with Mas-Colell et al.'s book, they don't just show off words like "thaumaturgical"[1], "atavistic"[2], or "oneiric"[3]. And don't get me started on the occurrences of "vertiginous".

On the other hand, if you're preparing for a spelling bee, this is the book for you. I must admit I was half-tempted to set up a blog much like Jarett Myskiw's Definitive Jest that highlighted DFW's unusual/unusable vocabularies from Infinite Jest, but I realized this will require me to read Perdido again and I don't think I want to subject myself to that twice in a summer.

[1] The top point was labelled Occult/thaumaturgical; the bottom left Material; the bottom right Social/sapiental. p166
[2] ... after the atavistic disgust and fear has gone, .... his lover had been taken from him. p438
[3] It had only been the slake-moth's oneiric hold on him that kept him standing. p475


Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Incubator

A month ago, an article about Duolingo was published on Quartz and it sparked a discussion among contributors in Duolingo Incubator. Some think the article is inaccurate in many places, but one point that led to a longer discussion is about putting our (voluntary) work on our resumes. I put it on mine, many others don't.

Which made me ask myself, why did I put it on mine?

Of course, I put a bunch of other stuff on my resume, too. Obviously there's contact information, education history, and professional experience. And aside from the volunteer experiences and other activities, I also put in the online courses I completed, awards I won, and languages I mastered.

The last three things are easier to justify. I took economics courses online to reveal my interest and familiarity of basic economics theories despite my background from astronomy. I showed off my awards to hint at my ability to excel academically. I listed the programming languages to demonstrate my exposure to quantitative analytics.

My activities with Duolingo Incubator, though, would not directly tell you what aspect of myself I am selling. (And that's the point of a resume, isn't it? To sell yourself.)

On the face of it, I was not applying for a linguistic-related position. But even if I were, I had other credentials to emphasize. I like to think listing TOEFL/GRE scores are rather crass, but they could do. Of course, if the position had asked for someone with academic training in linguistics then I would be out of consideration regardless.

So my intent must have leaned towards showcasing my skills. In the discussion I mentioned earlier, a fellow contributor posited that volunteering in the Duolingo Incubator is an evidence of one's persistence, stubbornness, and patience--with a streak of insanity. But of course you would only know this if you are familiar with the workings of the Incubator. Most people don't--many has never even heard about Duolingo at all.

Evidently, we are not paid for our voluntary contributions. Ostensibly, this shows that we are employer's dream employees for willing to work hard for free. I think this is an overtly cynical view. Only predatory, exploitative employer would extrapolate that because a candidate listed voluntary activities in their resume they will hold that against them (maybe in the salary negotiation?). If that were the case, they shouldn't want to work for these employers anyway.

I have never been in the receiving end of my own resume. Naturally, or it would have been weird. So I can't tell you how my Incubator activities are being seen by the people who read them. The closest remark that I had was from Héctor--then a prospective employer, who said that I was "pretty enterprising", having seen the meandering path that I took with plenty of detours from astronomy to parliamentary debating, Tohoku reconstruction, and Amnesty campaigns (this was the days before I joined the Incubator).

Seeing that they then hired me, apparently listing volunteering activities did not hurt me. But I feel that in my former workplace, at worst, volunteering is neither here nor there. My boss volunteered in a health clinic. Some colleagues also did a stint with Indonesia Mengajar, which tend to come with ancillary volunteering activities once our stint was over. When I later took charge of the recruitment, candidates' volunteering/organisational activities were never the main reason behind our recruitment decision, but it's likely reading a list of volunteering history in a candidate's resume made me see their profile more positively[1].

A relevant infographic from Deloitte. Source: here.

In the end, I think it boils down to the fact that it feels great to be able to contribute in the Duolingo Incubator. I first joined when the English course for Indonesian speakers was still in Beta phase, and it has now reached 4.06 million users. That's almost the entire Costa Rican population using our course, right there. I had also designed the reverse course: the Indonesian course for English speakers, which Duolingo will hopefully launch into Beta this August. Figuring out the best structure to teach Indonesian in Duolingo has led me to find hidden gems of language resources, which had been really interesting.

Furthermore, I have to vet, recruit, and onboard new volunteer contributors in Duolingo, too. My interactions with the applicants and fellow contributors has also taught me what (not) to do when you need something done--which I can easily translate into my actual professional environs. It helps me grow.

In my resume, putting it there is my declaration of how I grew, and how I'm seeking to grow. That, I think, is really the reason why it's there.

[1] I'm not alone in this. In 2013, Deloitte surveyed 202 HR executives and found that the skills and experience acquired through skills-based volunteering are favourably viewed among most HR executives. Read more here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Seorang kawan mengunggah fotonya di depan markah nama universitasnya ke Instagram dengan takarir ungkapan syukur atas orgasme intelektual terus-terusan yang ia dapatkan dari program pascasarjana yang sedang ia tempuh saat ini. Saya yang membuka Instagram karena mencari selingan belajar jadi penasaran, pembelajaran macam apa yang kawan saya ini dapatkan di sana?

Rasa penasaran saya tebersit dari pengamatan saya atas proses pembelajaran saya sendiri. Selama setahun terakhir ini, saya menggauli diktat-diktat yang berkutat pada makalah-makalah ilmiah besar. Saya belajar tentang berbagai terobosan penting yang dihasilkan para ilmuwan besar yang berpengaruh dalam membangun fondasi riset ilmu ekonomi modern. Tapi saya tidak menggapai "puncak kenikmatan seksual" dari proses pembelajaran saya. Apakah ada yang salah dengan saya?

Dan apakah kawan saya menggapai kepuasan seksual dari mengamati senggama intelektual yang ia temui di kuliahnya? Kalau iya, apakah dia semacam voyeur?

Sambil pulang, saya membawa sebagian diktat di tangan--rasanya seperti mengangkut stensilan. Saya jadi berpikir, kalau program si kawan bukan melulu ceramah dan membaca makalah, dugaan voyeurisme ini menjadi tidak sahih. Mungkin ia terlibat langsung dengan riset yang dilakukan di universitasnya, dengan profesor dan para staf pengajarnya. Pesta seronok langsung berkelebat di benak saya.

Saya hanya bisa berharap keterlibatannya berdasarkan hubungan suka-sama-suka. Di sisi lain, ketika ia harus bergelut dengan hasil penelitian yang bertentangan dengan konsepsi yang sebelumnya ia pegang, apakah ini suatu bentuk rudapaksa? Perih!

Kemudian apabila kita bicara fakta bahwa banyak program pascasarjana di disiplin ilmu tertentu yang didominasi oleh figur para pria, bagaimana kita menempatkan kenikmatan seksual yang diraih para mahasiswa ini dari proses mereka-reka body-of-work sesama akademisi pria ini di benak mereka?

Terlepas dari orientasi masing-masing cendekia, satu hal yang jelas adalah bahwa upaya memalsukan data adalah setara dengan mengubah penelitian menjadi pelacuran.

Alamak, pelik nian. Mungkin ini sebabnya pendidikan seksual yang pas harus menjadi hajat bersama. Agar tidak semua peristiwa bermuara pada glorifikasi senggama.

*Lalu direspon warganet, "Halah, tahu apa kamu soal~"*

Sunday, April 8, 2018

New Keynesian economics: abridged

... beyond the point of usefulness, dalam sepuluh langkah mudah*.

1. Real Business Cycle economists say the RBC model works. Here's how it works.
2. Other economists argue that actually, the RBC model isn't so great. Here are some critiques.
3. RBC doesn't care about money, but money actually affects real economy. Here's some evidence from VAR.
4. Unless you are taking a shortcut, adding money to RBC does nothing. Here's how you get money neutrality.
5. If you add monopoly, price now has mark ups over marginal cost of production. Here's how the Dixit-Stiglitz setup works.
6. If your firm can’t always adjust your price, when you do adjust it, you’ll take into account of the future where you can’t adjust your price. Here’s how the Calvo fairy works.
7: Shocks will change things. Here’s some predictions, though they aren’t always good (here are some critiques). Nonetheless, it’s the best model that we have for now.
8. If your central bank doesn’t want to commit, they should lean against the wind to respond to cost-push shock. Lean on the interest rate aggressively to respond to inflation.
9. If you can commit, it will bring benefits. Here’s how tying yourself to the mast will save you from the sirens.
10. When you can’t lower your interest rate any further, committing to inflation (or government spending) will ease your slump. Here’s how.

(* Yang sebenarnya ngga mudah juga. Tapi paling ngga saya masih bisa berhitung jadi penyajiannya beneran dalam sepuluh langkah.)

- Judul dicuri dari sini.
- Masih merasa ringkasan ini terlalu panjang? Ya sudah, intinya kuartal ini saya belajar tentang: uang. Ini adalah kelanjutan dari semester lalu yang dibagi menjadi dua kuartal: pertumbuhan (growth) dan ketidakpastian (uncertainties). Kuartal sekarang adalah kuartal kapita selekta: kelas makro saya akan membahas bunga rampai teori model pengangguran, perpajakan, dan ??? (belum ada di silabus).
- Kuartal depan? @#@??#$$#@!T_T@#@OTL

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Brave New World

"Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly---they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced." [Chapter 4]
"I'm glad I'm not an Epsilon," said Lenina, with conviction.
"And if you were an Epsilon," said Henry, "your conditioning would have made you no less thankful that you weren't a Beta or an Alpha."  [Chapter 5]
"But if you know about God, why don't you tell them?" asked the Savage indignantly. "Why don't you give them these books about God?"
"For the same reason as we don't give them Othello: they're old; they're about God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now."
"But God doesn't change."
"Men do, though."
"What difference does that make?"
"All the difference in the world."  [Chapter 17]
"I say, you do look ill, John!"
"Did you eat something that didn't agree with you?" asked Bernard.
The Savage nodded. "I ate civilization." [Chapter 18]
From Aldous Huxley's classic work Brave New World. Quotes are from Chapter 4, 5, 17, 18, respectively. I learned that this book is an assigned reading for high schools here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

LinkedIn adalah media sosial paling nggapleki

*Buka app Mail*
from: LinkedIn
date: 12 March 2018 at 17:16
subject: Masyhur, you have a new suggested connection to review 
You are receiving LinkedIn notification emails.
from: LinkedIn
date: 13 March 2018 at 02:02
subject: Masyhur, people are looking at your LinkedIn profile
You are receiving Professional Identity Digest emails. 
from: LinkedIn Updates
date: 13 March 2018 at 02:04
subject: Congratulate [name redacted] on the new position 
You are receiving Network Updates Digest emails.
from: LinkedIn
date: 13 March 2018 at 21:03
subject: Masyhur, you have 8 invitations, 4 job changes and 28 new updates waiting for you on LinkedIn 
You are receiving Activity You Missed emails.
from: LinkedIn
date: 13 March 2018 at 21:14
subject: Masyhur, more than 12,000 new jobs in Jabodetabek , Indonesia 
This is an occasional email to help you get the most out of LinkedIn.
from: LinkedIn
date: 14 March 2018 at 19:01
subject: Ikea just joined the gig economy 
You are receiving highlight emails.

from: LinkedIn Notifications
date: 19 March 2018 at 21:22
subject: Masyhur, see what's new on LinkedIn 
This is an occasional email to help you get the most out of LinkedIn.
 *Keluarin laptop, buka versi web LinkedIn buat matiin semua email notifikasi ga penting yang ga habis-habis.*

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Teh Talua

Nina seorang perempuan yang ingin makan di restoran Padang di simpang jalan. Makanannya enak, harganya terjangkau. Restoran itu selalu laris, dan ada banyak juga pelanggannya yang orang Jawa.

Bagaimana dengan Nina? Hanya dia yang tahu apakah dia orang Jawa atau Minang. Tapi kita bisa menebaknya dengan mengamati minuman yang Nina pesan. Kalau Nina orang Minang, Nina pasti akan memesan teh talua. Sementara itu, kalau Nina orang Jawa, Nina akan cenderung memesan teh manis. Semua orang tahu orang Jawa suka minuman yang manis.

Teh talua: penambah stamina kerja.
Foto Ramzy Muliawan

Tapi tunggu dulu, Nina bisa juga pesan teh talua meski sebenarnya dia orang Jawa. Ini bukan karena Nina suka rasanya ("Masa teh dicampur telur mentah?!" pikir Nina-Jawa). Seandainya ternyata Nina orang Jawa, Nina masih mungkin mengurungkan niatnya memesan teh manis.

Mengapa? Karena di restoran itu ada Joni.

Joni sudah memasuki usia ngebet kawin. Dua minggu sekali ibunya bertanya peruntungan asmaranya. Biasanya, ibunya Joni yang masih tinggal di Jawa sekaligus berpesan, “Goleko bojo wong Jowo wae, le.”

Inilah sebabnya Joni akan mengenalkan diri ke Nina jika dia melihat Nina memesan teh manis.

Tapi Nina malas. Ia datang hanya karena ingin rendang, yang ia inginkan adalah bisa makan dengan tenang tanpa gangguan. Nina tenteram jika ia bisa makan sendirian. Nina juga senang kalau bisa pesan minuman kesukaan. Di sisi lain, Joni suka kalau bisa berkenalan dengan Nina.

Jadi, apa strategi ekuilibriumnya Nina?

(Kalau Anda ingin mencari titik ekuilibriumnya, anggap perbandingan orang Minang dan Jawa adalah satu banding sembilan. Atur utilitas Nina dan Joni dengan angka-angka yang jamak digunakan.)

Ini adalah modifikasi permainan bir dan quiche. Bacaan lebih lanjut bisa ditemukan di sini. Diposting malam-malam sebelum esok terjerembab ke sedu-sedan lihat hasil ujian mikro tadi siang.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Great Escape

It is possible to be unhappy or worried, or to feel stress, even at times when you think your life is generally going well. Indeed, sadness, pain, and stress might be inevitable during some of the experiences one must go through in order to build a good life. Army boot camp, graduate studies in economics, medical school, or dealing with the death of a parent are examples of unpleasant experiences that are nevertheless an essential part of life. 
The above is from Angus Deaton's The Great Escape, page 52. I agree with Nils' review of the book here.

Addendum: Shout out to my girlfriend who allowed me to steal her copy of this book. (In my defense, it's not really likely that she'll ever get around to finish it anyway.)