Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fly Away, Little One. Be Free!

It's been a good couple of days:
  • Yesterday, we just got a very good sized check from the IRS (we'd let some things slide when the Unknown Son was sick, and finally got things straightened out a few months ago.
  • about a half-hour ago, I submitted a paper to a journal (not a top-tier one, but a decent one). It's been about 4 years since we started it. So now, it's off my desk.
  • I just got an email that my new 43-inch flat-panel TV is available for pickup from Best Buy.
All in all, a nice way to close out the year. Now I just have to get the TV set up in time to watch the Lesnar/Overeem MMA fight on Friday.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Semester Goes Out Not With a Bang, But With a Whimper

I was just commenting to the Unknown Wife how this semester was ending going so well compared to previous ones - my student managed investment fund presentation was done a day earlier than usual, my principles class was ahead of schedule, and my exams were at the beginning of exam period rather than near the end.

I should have known - never say things like that. Even in jest.

It angers Academia - the patron goddess of all professors (also known as "she who makes professors' work go pear-shaped at the worst possible time")

So, what happens? I was cutting and pasting items from the grades spreadsheet for my principles class (it has four components, all on separate tabs of the worksheet). Somehow, I not only deleted the grades for all three exams, I copied the sheet to a file name that overwrote the backup (I always save the spreadsheet to a new file name after each update). After searching for over an hour, I finally found an email backup copy I'd made that had everything but the final exam grades.

The morals of the story:
  1. Make multiple backups of your grading spreadsheet (and anything else of critical importance) every time you change it.
  2. Never, ever say "things are going well this semester". It angers Academia (and she is a vindictive "rhymes with witch").
On a more pleasant note, a couple of bright spots this week:
  1. looks like I'll have a paper submitted within a couple of days. It won't get looked at by the journal editor for a couple of weeks due to the holiday, but it'll be off my desk. Since (as my coauthor says) "if we don't submit this one soon, we'd better start saving for its college education", that's a good feeling.
  2. A coauthor informed me that she had a revise and resubmit that requires her to do some tests that she could do herself, but would rather outsource. Since I can easily do it with a week's work or so, she asked me to be a coauthor. So, for a bit of work, it looks like I will likely have another hit.
  3. We've been making do at the Unknown Household with a seven-year old TV (an old cathode-ray model). We just got our new TV stand (a very nice corner model) and will shortly be getting a new 46 inch flat panel model. Ah, the Kingdom of Thingdom has a new subject.
In any event, here's wishing a Merry Christmas (or whatever else you choose to celebrate this time of year) to all my readers (all three of them).

It's finally feeling like Christmas in the Unknown Household - we've got Christmas songs playing on the radio, Winnie the Pooh (the Unknown Son's (a.k.a. Knucklehead's) recent fascination) on TV, and I'm in the middle of making up a quadruple batch of pumpkin soup on the stove A double batch will be for our neighborhood party tonight and another is for the big family get-together at our place on Christmas Day. So the place sounds and smells like Christmas.

mythe Goddess made me save my grade spreadsheet to the wrong name

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Congresscritters Aren't Like The Rest Of Us

This last few weeks, we've heard a lot about research conducted by Ziobrowski et. al. (see here and here) on the possibility of informed trading by Senators and Congressmen. Based on abnormal returns earned on their portfolios, it appears that they do use their "inside information" in ways that would be illegal for those not in government service. In case you haven't seen it, here's the 60 Minutes story that brought Ziobrowski's research into the public eye:

Now here's another fun fact - Congresscritters not only get to profit from material nonpublic information, they also get to reveal it to select parties too. It seems like a number of hedge funds regularly meet with members of congress to get fast track access to this information. Here's a video from the Wall Street Journal for your viewing pleasure.

And here I though our elected officials were pure of heart and above approach (sorry - I think I shouldn't have changed my meds without doctor's orders).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stuck In Grading

Ah, all classes are done, and my finals have been taken. Unfortunately, I had a rather large group in my principles class, and they had a long final - 73 students and a final with 25 multiple choice questions(concepts and definitions) and 21 problems. I'm currently on problem 11, so I still have about 730 "student-problems) to grade (about 5-6 hours of work).

Then the grumbling by the students starts. I've already had one email me to complain that "my tests didn't assess the students' learning properly" - within a day of the exam.

But even with all that, this still beats any other job I can imagine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Winding Down The Semester at Unknown University

It's Saturday afternoon, and I'm in my office writing final exams while the rest of the Unknown Family is one state away at a nephew's birthday part.

So that means it must be the end of the semester.

I have one day of classes left and two exams to give - one in my principles class and one for my student-managed investment fund class. and both exams are well on the way to being written. So, I'm in better shape than I have been at the end of the semester than in a while (I'm usually doing the mad scramble for the finish line). I figure another day's work on the exams and a couple of days grading, and I'm done until the next crop comes in.

It's been a good semester. My principles class went better than it's gone in a long time. I always try to give my students their money's worth, and push them significantly harder than in the other sections of the class. In prior semesters, they'd griped about this to the Powers That Be.

This semester seemed different. Part of this was that I have a much better attitude about life than I had previously. Most people who know me would characterize me as enthusiastic (sometimes to a fault) and optimistic. While the Unknown Son was in the final stages of his illness, I was very stressed (ya think?). When I'm stressed, I get more than a bit sarcastic, and that never plays well with students (particularly when you're really pushing them).

This semester, I was unabashedly positive and relaxed in the class. I also spent much more time early on framing their expectations. So, there was very little griping to the folks in the Dean's office. Finally, I made a concerted effort to make sure the focii of the class were working problems (and making THEM work problems) in class until they couldn't take it any more, and forcing them to participate. The students seem to have gotten the message that an easier road in class is often not the the best option.

Unfortunately, we don't do a common final exam for the principles class at Unknown University. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that my students have a better grasp of the material than in some of the other sections, but I'm always leery of making statements like this because of biases in my own perceptions (confirmation bias, hubris, and so on). I'd like to see if hard data shows that they know more, or if I'm just convincing myself. Maybe next time I can convince them to go the common exam road.

My student-managed fund class also did better than I expected. I always fear the worst as they're getting read for their end-of-semester presentation to the Alumni. This semester, we made the presentation it at the offices of a major investment-management company. The students did well, so it should help with placement of our grads at this firm in the future. I brought a couple of juniors who will be in the class next semester along to the presentation, and one of them might have made a connection there (with an Unknown University alum who already works at the firm). So, he might have made a major step towards scoring an internship for this summer.

In any event, I've had enough office time for a Saturday. So it's time to head out for some Christmas shopping and then settle in for the big UFC fight tonight. Since the Unknown Family is out of town, I get to do the bachelor thing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer Promotes Bullying! (sniff, sniff)

People of my generation got used to seeing Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer at least a hal-dozen times each holiday season. It was so ubiquitous that asking someone my age "What do bumbles do" would have about an 80% chance of being answered "Bounce".

It was only a matter of time before the PC crowd got a hold of it. Special ed professor George Giuliani claims that St. Nick's behavior in cartoon is tantamount to bullying, and sends the wrong message to children watching the family favorite. In response, he's written a new book, "No More Bullies at the North Pole," which re-tells the story of the triumphant reindeer (I checked - it's not available at Amazon in case you were thinking of getting it).

"Santa has ten policies that are very unfair, and Mrs. Claus sets out to correct those policies, and what you just saw, where Rudolph is being treated very very badly, and that should never happen," Guiliani said.

Here's an interview of this guy on Fox. It's also notable because they have a response from Brad Stine, one of my favorite comedians. I'd say he does a good job of treating the good professor's idea with all the seriousness it deserves.

In case you're not aware of him, Brad Stine is best knows for his routine "Put a helmet on!" here's a clip

HT: Ace of Spades Headquarters

Ah well - enough wasting of time. Back to work. I have an exam to write, a paper to finish, and a presentation to check (my student-managed investment fund group is making their end-of-semester presentation to the fund's advisory board in two days, and this time we're doing it on-site at the offices of a major investment management firm).

update: The Unknown Daughter thought I was kidding when I told her someone had made up a story about Rudolph being bullied. She's finding out that the world is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. Then she proceeded to make fun of Professor Giuliani. That's my girl.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Joys of Customer Service at

One of the nice things about having a blog is that it gives me a good place to vent on occasion. Today's been a long day - three classes to teach and met with student for about three hours in addition to that answering questions abut their valuation models. So, I'm basically wasting time before I have to leave and pick up the Unknown daughter from Girl Scouts. So, here's a minor vent.

I recently bought a Nook Color from "Daily Steals" ( The price (only $130) seemed like a deal that was too good to be true.

Being a born skeptic, I often tell people "if it seems like it's too good to be true, it probably is." I should listen to myself more often (and not merely when I'm saying "my preciousssss".)

About two weeks after I bought my Nook, it started malfunctioning - it would unexpectedly turn off, and then wouldn't boot unless the charger cable was connected (I think the "on/off" button might have had a bad connection - once booted, it would stay on, at least for a while). So, I sent them an email, and received an automated response saying
Your email is very important to us. You can be confident that we will adress your questions in a timely manner. A Customer Service Representative will personally respond to you within 1-2 business days. You may also contact our Live Chat during
business hours, Mon-Thu: 9:30-5 ET and Fri: 9-2 ET. We are closed on Saturday, Sunday and Holidays.
Two days go by, and no email response. So, I call their customer service number. I got a recording (that sounded suspiciously like Kasey Kasem - maybe he's doing a bit of work on the side), and ended up on hold for a half an hour.

Next, I tried their "live chat feature, and got a customer service person in a chat session. Here it is (I've done very minor editing only, since my typing-fu is not all that great):

Judith: Hi There! Welcome to DailySteals Live Chat. How can I assist you today?

Me: I am following up on an email I sent abut a defective product (two days ago) -- I have pasted the content into the email into the chat window to make your life easier. Here it is:
I ordered a Nook Color (order ID XXX) on 10/16/2011 (and received it on 10/27). It worked fine for the first few weeks, but it now appears to be defective. It will only boot when the charger is plugged in (and not using battery power only). In addition, it sometimes cuts off unexpectedly. The device information on the Nook says that if the Nook is defective and it was NOT purchased from a Barnes and Nobile store, I should contact the retailer from which I purchased it. So, I am contacting you to see what you can do for me.

Judith: Please send us an email to so we can have someone look into this for you.

(methinks Judith needs to read the message I just sent)

Me: I have already sent an email (as I mentioned in the chat, I sent it two days ago). I am chatting to follow up on that email. Are you saying that I should send another email to verify the first one? After all, It's been several days, and I haven't heard back on that one yet.

Judith: I am unable to assist you with this via live chat and if you have received an email correspondence, you need to respond to the email

(this sounds like a canned response)

Me: I am not responding to an email. I am "talking" to you because I HAVE ALREADY SENT AN EMAIL AND I HAVE NOT RECEIVED A RESPONSE. My problem is that I have sent an email and I have received no response. Is there a real live person I can talk to?

Judith: When did you send your email?

(again, there seems to be a lack of reading comprehension here)

Me: Please read my previous chat - I sent it two days ago.

Judith: You will receive a response very soon

Me: What does that statement mean? Is that a standard response to inquiries, or does it mean that you have checked into my SPECIFIC request and have verified that my problem is being handled?

Judith: It means that based on the date you emailed, you will receive a response from a representative shortly

Me: in other words, the first case.

Me: An additional question - what does "very soon" mean? A day, three days, a week?

Judith: Either today or tomorrow

Me: Good. If I haven't heard from anyone by then, I will assume that customer service is
not a priority (after all, three days is a long time to wait to receive a response for a basic inquiry). At that point I think it would be appropriate to post this whole episode on my blog - I have a bit more than 1,000 subscribers, and I'm always looking for material. That's not intended as a threat, by the way. It's just that I (and most people I know) value customer service highly. So, buying a product at a "great" price is not a deal if there are easily avoidable problems down the line.

Just for the record (in case anyone wants to contact me), the email is and my cell phone # is XXX-XXX-XXXX

It will be interesting to see how long "today or tomorrow takes." Ah well, at least I know that if it doesn;t work out, I have the satisfaction of knowing that the thousand or so subscribers who have nothing better to do than read this blog (seriously, people, you need to get a life) will know whiat the downside of "deal sites" are.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Random Thoughts

It's been a busy month or so since FMA, so I've been out of touch blog-wise, So her are a few snippets:
  • We're now in the final throes of the semester (only two weeks left once the students get back from Thanksgiving), and they just had their second exam in my principles class). So, I had about 1000 pages of grading to do (I don't do scan-tron graded exams). But they did extremely well, so I feel good about it. Now all I have left to cover is CAPM and WACC, so I'm right on schedule.

  • I've been experimenting with online web-conferencing software as an enhancement to my classes. We use a really clunky system called Sakai, which has limited web-conferencing capabilities (only 15 or so concurrent users). So I and another faculty who's also a techie have been looking into using a commercial vendor that will allow us to do deliver online instruction (and review sessions) for 50-100 students at a time. I figure that this (along with my pre-recorded videos) could be the backbone for a fairly thorough and well-done online class.
  • The little guy is talking up a storm, and is a riot to be around. He loves to get a running start and then do a running headbutt. Unfortunately, he's at just the right height that he hits his dad in a very sensitive area. But it was pretty funny at Thanksgiving when he caught his uncle unawares. It probably didn't help that I distracted him at just the right moment. when he wasn't. Not nice, I know. But funny
  • Trying to get a paper out this weekend, another one in the following week, and a third one over December break. And then I'll do the usual scramble to get a new piece together for the FMA deadline in January.
Finally, I came across a pretty good quote (by Aristophanes) that will probably make it onto my door: “Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.”

Gotta get to bed. Later.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tell Us About Faculty Interviews That Went Bad

At the FMA, I talked to several candidates on the market (of course, their opening line was the traditional mating call of the new candidate: "are you hiring this year?"). Since by now they're through the experience, I thought they could use a bit of comic relief. .

I was out with a number of my friends in Denver. The topic turned to "interviews gone bad". Most of them had been in the field for at least a half-dozen years (and in most cases, twice or more that many). So we've all either been on an interview that (as Terry Pratchett would say) "went pear-shaped") or have heard of one - and in some cases we know stories from either side of the table. After hearing a few stories that made me laugh so hard that I almost wet my trousers, I thought this would make a great topic for a post.

To get the ball rolling, I'll share tow of my favorites (I wasn't personally involved in either, but heard them from one or more of the participants):

1) Sleeping Walrus University: My friend John (the name has been changed to project the guilty) likes to (over)partake of the fruit of the vine. One night, he overdid it in a major way. His school was interviewing, and unfortunately, they were holding interviews in the room he was sharing with another faculty member. The next morning came around, and he was hung-over, probably still mostly soused, and completely dead to the world (absent dynamite or a crane, he was not to be roused or moved). So, when the first interviewee of the day came in, the other two faculty members mad ethe best of the situation, and conducted the interview with John asleep in the bed, covered up completely by a mound of blankets.

John is not a slender man (he's somewhere in the Chris Christie weight and body-shape class), so the pile of blankets looked like someone had buried a walrus (or maybe a sea lion)under there. And to boot, John was snoring at rock-concert decibel level. So, every few minutes, an interviewer's question (or the candidate's response) would be punctuated by a loud "SNNNZZZZPPPPFT". I think the candidate might have gotten a campus visit out of it, but ended up taking a position elsewhere.

2) Yes, we believe in full disclosure: An older faculty member I know came on the job market in the late 1970. His most memorable interview was conducted in a poorly-lit hotel room. I know that it's important for the interviewer to feel comfortable, but this guy didn't quit get the concept. For some reason, he felt no need to wear pants, and conducted the entire interview wearing a t-shirt and his underwear (and no, my friend didn;t remember if they were boxers or briefs - he focused on making only eye contact). Sometimes less is NOT more, dude.

If you have other stories, feel free to put them in the comments. Please pass this along to your friends, because almost everyone either has a story of their own or knows of one. By all means, don't use your real name, and try to disguise or change enough details so that they can't be traced back to the parties in questions. I'll periodically promote the best ones from the comments up to the main post (note: I may make a few editorial changes for the sake of spelling, punctuation, extremely poor taste, anonymity's sake, or comic license).

So give me your best (or worst), and let's have some "inside baseball" fun.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back From The FMA

I just got back from the annual FMA (Financial Management association) annual meeting in Denver. I presented my paper, commented on a few others, set up some possibilities for collaboration (and possibly making so money teaching overseas), and spent a ;lot of times with old and dear friends (and made a few new ones)

I n particular, it seems like the Christian Finance Faculty Association is getting off the ground,. We had a good meeting on Friday with some stimulating discussion and a chance to meet new friend (some of whom we've known for years but didn't realize they were Christian.

We're in discussions about starting a blog, and when It's up, I'll pass it along.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I'm probably beating a quickly dying horse, but I couldn't resist. The other day, I was talking with a colleague about the Occupy Wall Street issue, and came down on the side of the protesters, saying that the distribution of wealth in our country wasn't "fair" (actually, they said "equitable", but they pretty much meant the same thing. So, I brought up another colleague's Business Law class where if the students used the word "fair" in an answer, they automatically lost points.

Fair is one of those words that seems to mean so many different things to different people that it's practically useless in conversation except as a rhetorical tool. When the Unknown Daughter was seven, we decided to expunge the use of the "it's not fair". The Unknown Wife and I told her that we didn't want to hear it, and whenever she uttered the phrase, she'd just have to "put it in THE BOOK". THE BOOK was a little journal with her name on it and the title "It's Not Fair". Whenever she used the forbidden phrase, she had to write it down as "It's not fair that______". She looked at the book, thought a minute, smiled at me, and wrote one (and only one) entry in the book: "It's not fair that they're my parents". She's pretty much never used the phrase since (yes, I have a remarkable daughter).

To close, let me give you two sites to peruse. In the first, We are The 99 Percent, the Occupy Wall Street Crowd posts their grievances, and in the second, We are the 53 Percent, some others post their responses. Feel free to chime in on either side.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Honey, I'm Home (With a Jab at Occupy Wall Street)!

Financial Rounds went dark over the summer - I spent the time working on research, playing with The Unknown Wife and The Unknown Kids, and riding my bike. But now, I'm back. At present, I'm working madly to make some last minute changes to a paper to be presented at the FMA (Financial Management Association) annual conference in Denver. I'm doing it at the last minute (as usual), so I can't post much right now.

But this video pretty much screamed out for attention. It's a great parody of "The Times They Are A Changing", by Bob Dylan - one of the classic songs of my youth. It takes some pretty good jabs at the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd (not that that's all that hard), and points out how much capitalism has improved almost everyone's lot over the last century or so. Embedding seems to be disabled, but it's SFW, so click on the link and enjoy.

Here are the lyrics (See if you can spot the reference to the classic economics essay I, Pencil) :
Come gather round people
come and join your hands
we're taking Wall Street
and we're making demands
and we're heeding the call
and we're crying for help
only 1% of us have wealth

but first we need posters
we need to make signs
but to do so it seems
that we need some supplies

We need poster board
I can't make it myself
but it's 10 cents a sheet
at the store it's on sale
an example of economies of scale
it's so evil

They're saying that freedom
has done little to stop
Corporations from keeping
the wealth at the top
But at what point in history
would a kid and a king
both have clean water to drink?

George Washington was
the richest man of his age
But he lost all his teeth
at a very young age
Because they didn't have Scope
and they all crapped in trays
we're not wealthy?

now there's fountains on streets
from which clean water pours
Four dollar generics
at all big box stores
a sultan and student
both have iPhone 4s
it's not fair

Come gather young people
come on everyone
and I'll tell you a tale
of a fortunate son

He's born in a country
and given vaccine
and rendered immune
to all kinds of disease
the Kardashians are on
all his TVs
it's not perfect

Banks don't need bailouts
on that we agree
so let's start up a group
and let's take to the streets
because if we do that then
you know what that means
we're racist.
HT: Ace of Spades

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Man Bites Dog and Couple "Forecloses" on Bank

Here's a classic role reversal story - a couple foreclosed on a bank! It started about five months ago when Bank of America attempted to foreclose on a Florida couple for non-payment of their mortgage.

The problem was, they'd paid cash for the house. So they went to court, and eventually won (they showed that they'd never had a mortgage with BOA).

The judge awarded them legal fees, but after five months, BOA somehow never got around to paying the judgement.

So, the couple's attorney got the sheriff, seized their assets and padlocked the bank branch building. The attorney gave instructions to remove assets like computers, desks, copiers, and any cash in the tellers' drawers. After about an hour of being locked out of the bank, the bank manager handed the attorney a check for the legal fees.

Talk about turnaround.

Read the article here.

update: It wasn't technically a "foreclosure" on the bank - it was actually a default judgment for unpaid legal fees and court costs. But close enough for the irony.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

How Much IS A College Degree Worth?

Here's an interesting chart from Lifehacker. It shows the median salaries (along with the 25th and 75th percentiles for various majors. It's taken from a report created by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce called "What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors"

Here's an interesting part from the press release Georgetown put out:
The top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are:
Petroleum Engineer ($120,000); Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000); Aerospace Engineering ($87,000); Chemical Engineering ($86,000); Electrical Engineering ($85,000); Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000); Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering and Mining and Mineral Engineering (each with median earnings of $80,000).

The 10 majors with the lowest median earnings are:
Counseling/Psychology ($29,000); Early Childhood Education ($36,000); Theology and Religious Vocations ($38,000); Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000); Social Work ($39,000); Drama and Theater Arts, Studio Arts, Communication Disorders Sciences and Services, Visual and Performing Arts, and Health and Medical Preparatory Programs (each at $40,000).
This isn;t surprising - with the exception of Pharmacy (which is also pretty rigorous and exacting), they're all fields that require a lot of math. To quote classic Barbie, "Math is Hard!". So there's a smaller supply of grads (and there's a pretty good demand for these grads, too).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

One 50-Miler down -- More To Come

I finished my 50 miler, and in fairly good shape, too. It took just about 3 hours 20 minutes, which is a bit more than I expected.

I'd hoped to take it easy for the first 30 miles or so, but there were a couple of hills (one at 5 miles, and another another at 17 1/2) that were pretty stiff. Since my heart rate was up to 160 by the top of each hill, I knew I was in for a long ride. Then, to add insult to injury, there was another hill at about 30 that felt like I was riding up a telephone pole for about 2-300 yards. Oh, what fun.

Ah well - next year I'll know to spend a lot more time working on hills beforehand (it's flat enough near Unknown University that I don't see a lot of hills unless I want to).

The legs aren't too bad right now, but I can tell tomorrow will be a real treat.

Next stop - a century!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another Good Ride

I did a 34 mile ride today - my longest so far this year. I've been using a heart monitor for a couple of years, and every year, it takes me a while to realize that I should pay attention to it - when I keep my pace slow enough in the early miles that my heart rate stays below 135 or so, a couple hour ride becomes pretty easy.

About time - my ride for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is only 7 days away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stick A Fork In Me!

I'm done, done, DONE with grading for the semester. Now there's nothing left to do but wait for the complaints. Ah well - that I can deal with.

For a reward, I spent the night spent reading an anthology of short stories titled Strange Brew by P.N. Elrod (author of the Vampire Files). It includes stories by some of my favorites, including Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Charlaine Harris, among others (what can I say - I'm a big fantasy/sci-fi nerd).

On the biking side, there's been nothing but rain for the last few days, so I went to the gym to use the exercise bike for about 40 minutes. It's a poor substitute for having wheels on the road, but my 50 miler (the Angel Ride) is only 11 days ahead, so it's better than nothing.

Enough goofing off - back to research.

Update: The rain stopped, so I got in another 26 miler. I rode like a circus bear on a bike, but I was still within a minute of my best time, so I'll take it. The good news is that I seem to be able to handle at least that distance at a pretty good pace even on an off day. So, with a bit more work, I should be able to do the 50 if I dial back a bit. It won't be pretty, but it's a ride, not a race.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's Time To Bring The Crop In

It's that time of the semester - exams are done, projects are in (with one exception) and it's grading time. Some highlights/low lights:
  • My Student Managed Investment fund was a weak group, and they never seemed to "get with the program". As a result, they did a lot of the work for the end-of-semester presentation to our advisory board in the 11th hour.
  • Having said that, they did a pretty good job in the presentation. Not as good as last year's group (that was probably my strongest group in the last 5 years), but good enough
  • My Investments class did terribly on my final exam. On the one hand, it means that grades will be lower than expected. On the other, since grades will depend a lot on the curve, it allows me a lot of flexibility.
  • I have THREE students that will be returning for my student-managed investment fund class next semester (they're three of the better ones, too). This makes my job a lot easier.
On non-job related things, I'm mostly trying to put in enough miles on my bike so that I'll be ready for the Hole In The Wall Gang Angel Ride. It's a relatively hilly 50 miler, and, while I'm pretty sure I can finish it, it'll be ugly. So, I'm trying to squeeze in a few more 25-30 milers in the next two weeks. It's a good cause (check out the link above.).

Unfortunately, yesterday involved a pretty hard 26 miler followed in short order by my 1 1/2 hour "Yoga For Stiff Guys" class (fairly strenuous yoga done in a heated room). BY the end of the day, I was beat to the bone.

Oh well - back to grading those last few student projects.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

FMA Decisions Are Out!

I just heard from a coauthor - we got a paper accepted at the Denver FMA meeting in October. The idea resulted from taking an idea we'd been working on and applying it to another data set we had available.

It's funny - we submitted two papers: this one was an early version, and the other was pretty much finished. However, to be fair, the results on this one were more interesting. And since we'd already gotten one paper on the program, we were actually glad we got the second one rejected - doing two papers at a conference means there's less time for catching up with friends.

This tale of two papers reminds me of a piece I read a while back (unfortunately, I can't recall its title). It discussed how there's a trade-off in research between "newness" and "required rigor". In other words, if you're working on a topic that's been done to death (e.g. capital structure or dividend policy), you'll be asked to do robustness tests out the yazoo. On the other hand, if it's a more novel idea, there's a lower bar on the rigor side, because the "newness" factor gets you some slack on the rigor side. .

In general, however, the "rigor" bar has been ratcheting up for the last 20-30 years, regardless of the "newness" factor. To see this, realize that the average length of a Journal of Finance article in the early 80s was something like l6 pages - now it's more like 30-40. As further (anecdotal) evidence, a friend of mine had a paper published on long-run returns around some types of mergers in the Journal of Banking and Finance about 9 years back. They made him calculate the returns FIVE different ways.

In any event, to make a long story short, I'm hoping we got accepted at FMA because the reviewers though our paper was a good, new idea.

But it's probably because we got lucky.

But either way, we'll take it - see you in Denver!

Journal Of Undergraduate Research In Finance

There's a new journal out geared towards undergraduate research. It's called (appropriately), The Journal of Undergraduate Research In Finance. Here's it's description:
The Journal of Undergraduate Research in Finance publishes original work written exclusively by undergraduates. Accepted articles are largely the result of the highest quality senior or honors theses. Articles come from all areas of Finance, case studies and pedagogy. All articles are subject to blind review by faculty.

The JURF exists to encourage exceptional undergraduate students to pursue high quality research in Finance, to provide these students with an outlet for their research, and to prepare these students for success in graduate school or industry. To maintain a focus on contributions made by the students, faculty involvement is limited to the guidance typically given during the writing of a senior thesis. Initial submissions must be made while the author is an undergraduate student.

The JURF is published annually.

So, if you have a student who has done some good research and who might be looking for an outlet, have them send it in - the submission deadline for this year's edition is May 15. As an added inducement, the top three articles for this year's issue will be invited to the FMA meeting in Denver to present their research, and will be considered for the annual Mark J. Bertus prize (in the amount of $1,000).

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Default Major

A colleague just pointed out a great article in the New York Times, titled "The Default Major". Here's a few choice pieces:
Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.


Donald R. Bacon, a business professor at the University of Denver, studied group projects at his institution and found a perverse dynamic: the groups that functioned most smoothly were often the ones where the least learning occurred. That’s because students divided up the tasks in ways they felt comfortable with. The math whiz would do the statistical work, the English minor drafted the analysis. And then there’s the most common complaint about groups: some shoulder all the work, the rest do nothing.

“I understand that teamwork is important, but in my opinion they need to do more to deal with the problem of slackers,” says Justin Triplett, a 2010 Radford graduate who is completing his first year in Radford’s M.B.A. program. From his perch as a teaching assistant, he estimates that a third of students in the business school don’t engage with their schoolwork. At Radford, seniors in business invest on average 3.64 hours a week preparing for class, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.


One senior accounting major at Radford, who asked not to be named so as not to damage his job prospects, says he goes to class only to take tests or give presentations. “A lot of classes I’ve been exposed to, you just go to class and they do the PowerPoint from the book,” he says. “It just seems kind of pointless to go when (a) you’re probably not going to be paying much attention anyway and (b) it would probably be worth more of your time just to sit with your book and read it.”

How much time does he spend reading textbooks?

“Well, this week I don’t have any tests, so probably zero,” he says. “Next week I’ll have a test, so maybe 10 hours then.”

He adds: “It seems like now, every take-home test you get, you can just go and Google. If the question is from a test bank, you can just type the text in, and somebody out there will have it and you can just use that.”

Let's see - the students don't study as much, they minimize effort, cheat on take-home exams, and don't come to class prepared.

These sound like things I've heard my own colleagues say in the hallways at Unknown University.

Nothing new. But somehow, there are professors in my school (several come to mind without much effort) who hold the students to high standards AND get top evaluations. The common threads in their classes is that they DEMAND that students come to class prepared and cold-call from day one. And they make classroom performance (either measured by the quality of participation or by numerous in-class quizzes (often of the unannounced, "pop quiz" variety) a major part of the grade.

Of course, they work a lot harder than the other professors in the classroom, but DUH.

Students will slack, not go to class, and cheat like crazy if all the instructor does is read off PowerPoint slides and give softball take-home assignments. They're rational, after all.

I view the course design (of which the grading scheme is a major part) as a mechanism design problem. In other words, it's an exercise in putting together a grading scheme that forces the students into behaviors that I want them to engage.

For the most part, they're rational - they'll find a way to get the grade they want while minimizing effort. The trick is to set the class up so that they can't slack. Unfortunately. that's harder than the old "30% of the class grade is based on the mid-term, 50% on the final, and 20% on quizzes" structure.

But it's possible.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another Good Ride

It was another nice day today (but windy as all get out). So, I did another 17 1/2 mile ride. Yesterday, my feet were freezing (it was about 50 degrees). Today, it was warmer (no need for a jacket), but the wind was brutal - over 20 mph at times.

Still, it was good, and about 5 minutes faster than yesterday for the same course. I was pretty tired after yesterday's ride, but the forecast says rain for the next few days, so I figured I'd take the ride when I could get it.

I must have gone harder than I thought, because about three hours later, I got a hamstring cramp of truly biblical proportions. Luckily, the Unknown Family was out of town, because I actually yelled (and loudly)

But given the chance, I'd take the ride again if I could. It's biking season!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The First Ride of the Season

Up until the last two weeks or so, I've been getting up at least 5 days a week at 4:30 and working out at the local YMCA from 5-6 (mostly spinning on the stationary bike). As a result of this and watching my diet, I've dropped about 15 pounds since the beginning of the year. So, I'm about the same weight at the beginning of biking season that I usually am around mid-Jul. I was wondering how this would translate to actually being on the road.

Today I found out - I took my first ride of the season, and went about 17 1/2 miles (about twice what I usually do at the beginning of the season). Despite the relative cold (about 52 and windy as all get out), it was pretty easy - I was able to keep my heart rate under 150 pretty much the whole way (except for the last 50 yards of a steep half-mile long hill at the 8 mile mark). So, it looks like it'll be a good riding season.

I'll be riding in the Angel Ride, a 50 mile fund-raiser for the Hole In The Wall Camp over Memorial Day Weekend, so I need to get with it. It's actually the second day of a two-day ride where they go the length of northern Connecticut (from the northwest corner to the northeast corner - about 80 miles) the first day, stay at the camp over Saturday night, and ride down the eastern border of Connecticut (northeast to southeast - about 50 miles) the second day. I'll be as part of a group that includes two guys from my weekly bible study and a lady from my wife's grief group (she lost a daughter to cancer a couple of years ago).

And finally, there's only three weeks left to the semester - yeah, baby!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finance Videos Online

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of using pre-recorded videos as resources for my students. I've been wondering if they would be attractive to others.

I recently came across a site called MindBites - they provide a platform for the distribution of video content online. Basically, they're an iTunes-type store for instructional videos. So, I uploaded my tutorials (so far, only the first two) for the Texas Instruments BA 2+ calculator, and priced them at $0.99 each (pretty much an iTunes model). I'm curious to see if anyone buys them.

Since I'm already putting much of my core Introductory Finance Class into short videos as a resource for my students, I'll post them to the Mindbites site as well. I figure there might be someone who's willing to pay a few bucks for (as an example) a series of 5 videos (about 3 hours alltogether of lectures on Time Value (with examples for using the calculator, the formulas, and Excel spreadsheets). If not, at least I'll have them done for my classes.

In case you're interested, the videos can be found here. If you decide to download them (the site takes PayPal), leave a review.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011


My undergraduate alma mater won ugly, but they won. And since it's not gymnastics or diving, there are no points for style.

I think I'll give my students a couple point bonus on their exam Thursday because I'm in such a good mood.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

My Picture With Bill Walton

I just got back from the R.I.S.E. conference in Dayton. There were some pretty good sessions, and my students got a lot out of it (as usual). The highlight for me was hearing Bill Walton (the "World's Tallest Grateful Dead Fan") speak -- I grew up a Boston Celtics fan, and he closed his career (as the quintessential Sixth Man) with them.

He was an exceptional speaker - since he's only 5 years older than me, his illustrations and anecdotes were a real trip down memory lane. Also, he's gone through some major stress: he's had over 60 surgeries on his back and feet, and spent almost two years on the floor due to spinal problems. At one point, he was so depressed and in despair that he contemplated suicide. So I get where he's coming from.

Now, only a few years after having his spine pretty much surgically reconstructed in an amazing medical procedure (they basically built an internal support cage around his spine), he's cycled 100 miles across Death Valley.

And yet, the recurring themes of his talk were family ("there's nothing like the pride of a father") relationships, and a whole lot of John Wooden memories. There's something about major crap happening to you (and I know that of which I speak) that gives you perspective.

As a father, cyclist, beate up former jock, and child of the 70s, I can say that I've heard few talks that affected me as much.

Afterward, we (I and my two students) got a chance to get our picture taken with him. Since I operate under a pseudonym, I cut out everyone's face. But just to give you a sense of proportion everyone's head (except for Walton's) is cropped just at the top of the head - I'm about 5' 7"", and the taller of my two students (the one to my left) is 6'2"". The top of my head was about a good half a foot below Walton's chin- it looks like he's standing on a chair. He is an absurdly tall man.

Now THAT was cool.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back In Dayton Again

I'm out at the R.I.S.E. forum in Dayton with a couple of Unknown University students. I've seen about a half dozen of these, so I thought I'd take a few minutes off from the speakers and knock out a quick post.

We have our new (used) car, and settled with the insurance company on the old one (they came up about $300 from their initial offer on our old car, so the arguing paid off. And, for a net cost of $1400 (the amount of the new (used) car we bought less the insurance settlement, we went from a $2000 Camry with 125,000 miles on it (and some minor body damage) to a 2001 Camry with only 85,000 miles (and a body in pretty much pristine shape. So, all in all, it worked out.

Time to go back for a few more speakers and catch up with some old friends. Then it's back to the hotel room to put up a video for my students.

Last semester, I put together a fairly nice video on Modern Portfolio Theory (the math of variance/covariance, portfolio risk and return, efficient frontier, etc...). I'm rounding it out with another one on some historical returns (basically chapter 5 from Bodie, Kane, and Marcus' investments text). This means that I don;t have to lose class time just because I'm away.
(we cancelled class Friday, since I'm out of town).

So even while I'm away, my students don't have to feel deprived (yeah, right).

Back to the speakers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Murphy is Alive and Well (And So Are We)

I was looking forward to our spring break - an entire uninterrupted week to work on research.

Hah! Enter Murphy, stage left.

A week before the break, the Unknown Wife got rear ended less than a mile from our house. As a result, our second car got totalled (mine - a ten year old Camry in fine running order) and she ended up going to the ER to get checked out for whiplash (she's o.k., but it blew almost 7 hours of our night). Luckily, she didn't have the kinds in the car.

Since then, she's been on muscle relaxants and going to physical therapy, and I've been either arguing with the insurance company about how much our car is worth or looking for a new (used) car - we're cheap so we don't buy new cars. Unfortunately, this requires time and search costs (and dealing with used car dealers, which is a whole lot of fun). All in all, I've had a brief early glimpse of a hell Dante never imagined - talking with insurance companies and used car dealers for all eternity.

Net result - a whole week basically down the toilet (which I woke up today to find is clogged, by the way - insert metaphor here).

It seems to be resolving - today we hear from the insurance company one last time, so we should be getting a check. Also, we're finally going to pick up a new used car (a Camry with less than 85,000 miles, which means it's barely broken in).

We still have to settle with the insurance company at some point about UW's injuries, but that comes after treatment is finished. It'll probably mean some $$ for the pain and suffering (not a lot, but some), but it still won't give us back our lost week.

The important thing is that everyone is o.k.

But I'd sure like to have that week back.

On an unrelated joke, this Dilbert cartoon tickled my funny bone. There seem to be many people on the green technologies bandwagon. I also think technology will end up solving our current environmental issues in ways we currently can;t even imagine. However, at present, most current green tech is more vaporware than real.

To me, green tech believers ofttimes come across as being in some strange religious sect (and I know about religious sects - I'm a proud member of one that believes some pretty outrageous things (like the God who made everything knows and cares about me personally, and sent his own son to die for me, etc...). And, like some members of my sect, they can often be pretty obnoxious (re: Jerry Falwell, Jim Baker, or the televangelist of your choice).

Anyway, here's the cartoon. Dogbert has the proper attitude: when someone gets on your nerves, find a way to make money off them.

As Glenn Reynolds says, "heh".

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Car Scams

Since I'm reasonably sure that our car will be totaled (not totally, but I'd put 10/1 odds on it being the case, after looking at the car), it looks like I'll be buying a new one. So, I started looking around on the various sites. On CraigsList, they warned about "Ebay scams".

There was a 2009 Nissan Altima with 29,000 miles listed for $2900. Too good to be true, so I figured it was phony. Just in case, I figured I'd send an email. Here's my response (highlighting is mine, to point out the "fishy" parts.


This 2009 Nissan Altima 2.5 S, automatic with 26,000 miles, runs and drives excellent(VIN: 1N4AL21E49N522850). This car has been extremely well maintained and it is fully paid. No accident, clear title, free of liens.
I have dropped my price to $2900 since this is an urgent sale and I need to sell it before 22 March, when I will be deployed in Afghanistan replacing the troops scheduled to come home.
(Note: appeal to sympathy - it's the military. Also, the chance to get something at a bargain))

I have decided to use ebay for this sale (the car isn't listed on ebay, only the payment process will be done through them). The car is already at our Military Logistic Department form Fort Bliss, TX, packed for shipping to a new owner. The Logistic Department will deliver the car to your home address in 3 days and the shipping is free for you. Since the car is in a military base, with no access you can't go there and take it, only the Logistic Department can deliver it. I will offer a 10 days period to inspect the car from the moment you receive it, before I will have your money.
(in other words, you can't see the car - just trust me).

If you agree with my price $2900, I need your FULL NAME AND COMPLETE ADDRESS, so I can inform ebay motors that I have a buyer! I will forward your details to them and then you will receive an invoice(with no further obligations or fees). Like this you'll be able to talk with them directly and ask all you want to know.
(eventually, he'll ask me to send it through Western Union, and poof goes my cash).

Hope to hear from you soon,
Sgt. XXX

Here's the info on the scam from eBay motors. I may play this jerk around for a while just on general principles. I know enough military folks that I could probably tie him in knots.

UPDATED 3/18 - so far, I've come across this scam three times in the last week. I haven't bought a car yet, but I have had some fun with the turkeys at the other end. Once said he was in Great Falls, and he ran for the hills when I told him I had a cousing stationed at Malmstrom AFB.

Good times, good times.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More Fun In The Unknown Household

We had a speaker (excellent one, at that)today at the Unknown University. Just as I got out, my cell rang - the Unknown Daughter on the phone tearfully says "Mom got into an accident and she's in the hospital". No other information.

So, I rush home (I live about 2 miles from the university) and try to get some info. UW was heading to the neighboring state (about 2 hours away) for a "retreat" at our old church (actually, a sleepover with a bunch of her old girlfriends). Less than a mile from our house, she stops, since the car in front of her was turning. She promptly gets rear-ended by some moron in a Ford Explorer (she was driving our Camry, so it's likely totalled).

She was able to get out of the car, but just in case (she got whipped around pretty hard), she went to the Emergency Room on a board, and called our house (we had arranged a babysitter so someone could watch the Unknown Baby Boy until I got home from the speaker).

She managed to call us from the ER (at this point it's 4 p.m.

Six hours later, after x-rays and an MRI,she gets checked out. No major problems, but she'll be sore tomorrow once the muscles start spasming (been there, done that, bought the shirt).

However, the MRI showed a possible bulging disk in her neck, but it could it's not clear whether it's from the accident, or just "Chronic". So (since I'm seeing a back specialist in a could of weeks), maybe they're running a "have one back checkup at the regular price, get the second for $99 (after all, it works for suits, so why not?).

Granted, it's a friday night, there are whackos out there, and it's a college town (and it's a friday night).

But. Six. Hours.


Time to start looking for another car.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Some Reasources For Teachers

I'm not (by any account) always the best teacher. I do all right - ry (and sometimes even succeed), but I have a few personal characteristics that sometimes work against me. First, I have a certain, shall we say, lack of interpersonal skills and an occasional inability to pick up on cues (insert joke about faculty member with mild Asberger's here). In addition, I have a tendency to become a bit sarcastic under stress, and that never plays well in the classroom.

But, much like the palace eunuch, even if I can't replicate it while it's happening all around me, I know it when I see it.

I saw it today when I came across Joe Ben Hoyle's website. He's an accounting professor at the University of Richmond, and I've mentioned him previously here, where he was profiled in UR's alumni magazine.

It turns out he has a website with some good teaching material. One of the links is to a set of short (1-2 pages each) essays on teaching and another is to his blog. Both are well worth reading. Go over the blog when you have time, but do yourself a favor, and download the essays (they're in one document) now. I almost guarantee you'll get something out of it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We Really Need Extra Credit (oh wait, we don't)

Every semester, I get a handful of students who come up to me and say something like "UP, is there anything I can do for extra credit? I reeeeeaaaaalllly need to pass this class". So this time, I thought I'd let students self-select up front instead of whining ex post.

I have about a 6-7 extra credit assignments for my investments class. I parcel them out one by one, with a deadline for each. Most will involve some kind of Excel assignment that will drive home a class topic, and will take an hour or so. If they complete an assignment by the deadline, they get one or more points added to the next exam.

I mostly have juniors in my investments class. They should currently be in the midst of applying for internships. Since they can't apply without a resume, I thought that giving them a point on the exam for simply having a resume review done by our college career services person was pretty much a no-brainer.

The end result - only three out of 21 students had the resume review done and got the points. And of course, they were my top three students.

Ah well. At least this makes it pretty easy to answer the students who darken my door in the last week of the semester looking for extra credit.

As usual, The Far Side has something that's on point.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Your Time-Wasting Moment Of The Day

Since we're at Hump Day + 1, I thought I'd post something humorous. The Unknown Daughter loves shows where someone ends up in a puddle of mud, slime, goo, or anything disgusting. So ABC's Wipeout was right up her alley. Here's a clip of their top ten:

I'll confess, I've also let her watch some episodes of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (with the volume off because of some of the double-entendres) when the Unknown Wife wasn't around.

Based on early evidence, it's pretty likely the Unknown Toddler will als have similar tastes.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

I'm less of a man than I used to be

Those of you who know me in my "real" identity also know that I've put on a lot of weight over the years. Some of it was stress, some due to the fact that I like food (after all, I haven't found anything better to eat), and a lot was just that when life gets busy, it's harder to find time to get to the gym.

I figured I either needed to get my self back in shape or start renting advertising space on my butt. And while there's plenty of space, there doesn't seem to be much demand.

I chose option A. Starting in the fall of 2010, I found myself waking up at regularly at 3 or 4 in the morning. Since I was teaching a 9:00 MWF class, that left over 5 hours before I had to be "at work".

The Unknown Wife works out at the gym from 6-7 with a neighbor. So, I figured I'd work out from 5-6 (the local YMCA opens at 5, so this means I wake about 4:30 or so). Once my medical issues from the summer cleared up, I started putting in about a half hour on the stationary bike each morning (and occasionally, some light weights). I figured I'd start with just exercising and not worry about diet at first - try too many things, and I'd just burn out.

Then, after the start of the year, I got an app for my smartphone called MyFitnessPal. It allows me to enter and track what I eat (calories) and my exercise throughout the day. So now, I get regular feedback (i.e. "if I eat this, I only have 500 calories left for dinner, but if I eat that, I get 800 calories"). As a result, I've been pretty much able to stick to a "net" 1500 calorie per day diet (i.e. I can consume 1500 calories PLUS any additional calories I burn off through exercising).

Net result so far -- I've lost about 7 pounds (and well over an inch around my waist). since the start of the year. Now I only have another 11 pounds to go. If I pull it off, it will mean a 10% body weight loss in about 4 months' time, and I'll be lighter than I've been in over 12 years.

In fact, If I only lose another 5 pounds (which I should by the end of March), I'll be lighter on April 1 than I usually am in August after almost 3 months of cycling. This means that if I can keep the spinning and weight loss up until all this global warming leaves us and I get my wheels back on the road, this should be a good year for cycling - less weight means faster pace/longer rides..

I've also had chronic intermittent back problems (another thing I got from my father). So, I've been going to a yoga class called "yoga for stiff guys" run by the father of the Unknown Daughter's best friend. Now, for the first time in probably 12 years, I can stand with my legs straight and put my palms flat on the floor.

So all in all, things are good. Now if I can only get these papers under review...

update: The only downside of this schedule is that I'm generally beat and in bed by 9:30 (not really a downside, since all I miss are garbage t.v. shows). The other night, I decided to read a bit before bed (I went up around 9). A half hour later the Unknown Wife came in to see me sound asleep with a book over my face. Luckily, she didn't have the presence of mind to snap a photo.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

It's Time for Some Testosterone

As my students and some of my friends know, I'm a big MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fan.

I did Tae Kwon Do in high school and competed in Judo in college, so I can appreciate a lot of the technical aspects. Thanks to the Judo, I particularly enjoy what happens on the ground in the submission game. In fact, in my first competition, I got chocked unconscious, which was pretty cool. It wasn't the last time, either - when we'd visit one dojo, there was a tradition that every new guy had to get choked out - kind of an initiation rite.

I gave up the judo fairly quickly, because I don;t have the body for it - have a tendency to get joint injuries. In the space of 2 years, I got a mildly separated shoulder, a torn rotator cuff, two dislocated elbows, and a severely bruised knee. To add insult to injury, since I was in the lightest weight class (131 lbs - those were the days, and are long gone), I ended up competing against kids who were 10-15 pounds lighter but had been doing judo since they were 6. In fact, one of the shoulder injuries was given to me in practice by a 14 year old, 116 pound girl who threw me around like a rag doll (in fairness, she was junior national champ the year before).

In any event, it looks like tonight's card will be a great one - the Silva/Belfort fight should provide some real fireworks, the Franklin/Griffin one should be a real crowd pleaser, and the Jones/Bader is another one I've been looking forward to.

Best of all, my local Applebee's shows the fights for free. So for the cost of getting it on cable pay-per-view, I get beer and munchies and still come out ahead.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Using Screen Recording Software

After I posted my video on security market indexes, I received a number of emails and messages asking questions on how I make them. So, I thought it would make for a a good post. So think of this a a FAQ on making videos for use in the classroom (or elsewhere).

1) What software do you use?
I use Camtasia, which is made by techsmith. It costs $299, but is available to academics for $180. Many universities make it available to faculty for free off a server, so check with yours to see. You can download a fully-functional 30-day free version to get started. You also need a headset with a microphone - using the computer's built in one doesn't work very well. There are other packages that do the same thing, but most people I know that are doing this are using Camtasia.

2) How does it work? Is it complicated?
Camtasia is what is called "Screen recording software". Basically, it records whatever goes across your computer screen as it happens. So, if you're working through a PowerPoint slide deck or a spreadsheet, it records whatever goes on your screen and puts it into a video file. If you're narrating material as you go through the slide deck, it will record the narration to. Alternately, you could record the video and add a voice-over later.

You can then edit the video to put in call-outs, captions, etc... Once that's done, Camtasia will create videos in just about any format you want - flash, MOV, AVI, iPad, etc...

You can also combine snippets of different videos. For example, I will often record 5-10 minutes at a time, clean it up, and save it. I will then combine the individual snippets. This is helpful when I make an error and want to later correct it.

3) How long does it take to make one?
The most time consuming part of making a video is getting organized before you start - making sure your slides are clean, getting your comments organized, etc... (but then, that's true of any teaching). Once everything is clean and organized, I find that there's about a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio of video production time to video length. In other words, a video with a 30 minute run time might take me about an hour to 90 minutes to create. For shorter videos, the ratio is less - I find that I can usually talk for 5-19 minutes without making a gaffe, so I can usually do my shorter videos in one pass. For longer ones, I often make mistakes partway through and have to re-record some parts. Once feature that adds extra time in the production of longer videos is that I typically put in a table of contents, and doing that takes a little bit of time.

4) How do you use the videos in class?
There are a couple of ways I've used them.
  • As a substitute for a lecture - When I'm away at a conference or class gets canceled due to weather, I'll put a lecture online. I've also used them this way when I get time-constrained (i.e. there's a topic near the end of the semester, and you're running out of time). So this way, I can effectively get more lecture time.
  • As additional resources for the students on selected topics - there are some topics that seem to be harder for some students to grasp at first pass (e.g. in the intro class, non-constant dividend growth valuation almost always confuses some students). So, for these topics, I put up a short primer (about 15-30 minutes with a number of examples and lots of explanation). That way, when a student has trouble, the first thing I point them to is the video. For most students, this is sufficient. If it isn't, I can usually fill in the gaps pretty quickly.
  • For assignments that require technical skills: This semester, I'm assigning a lot of extra-credit assignments in my investments class that involve some Excel work. Rather than spend a lot of time in class showing them (for example) how to estimate a regression, I'll put up a video that walks them through it in Excel. As an aside, once I've got a video on a topic, I can often use it in other settings. For example, I did one on data tables a year or so back. Once I had it done, I found a lot of ways students could use this in other classes (for two examples: They could see how a stock's intrinsic value changes when growth or cost of capital varies. or they could see how duration varies with coupon and maturity of a bond).
5) How much do the students actually use them?
I haven't done any formal studies as to how much they're used, but when I post a new video, my total hits on the video is usually 2-3 times the number of students in my class. My guess is that this means that they might view it in its entirety once and then go back a time or two to see specific subsections.

6) I'm sold. How do I get started?
First, go to Techsmith's website and download the free 30-day trial. Then watch a few of their instructional videos (they've done a great job with these, by the way). Then, get yourself a headset (mine cost about $50 from Staples. Finally, if you want more help, Dan Parks has written an excellent (and inexpensive) book titled Camtasia Studi 6: The Definitive Guide. It's for the older version (the current version is version 7), but the basics are all there.

Finally, when you make a good video, let me know (I can always use more resources).

Thursday, February 03, 2011

New Video On Security Indexes

Due to severe inclement weather (ice storm), less than half of my investments class showed up on Wednesday. The topic (market indexes) seems to give some of them trouble. So, rather than either go over it again in the next class (and make those who attend have to sit through it twice) or just move on (and leave those who clearly had a reason for missing class hanging), I put together a video on the topic. Since it's done, figured I might as well share. It's not professionally done by any stretch, but it's not bad (it runs about 40 inutes, but has a table of contents that whould allow you to jump back and forth). Enjoy.

NOTE:if the video doesn't come up, try this link.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Dismal States

If you're like me and stuck in the latest round of global warming (we're getting 8-10" - as usual, I blame Al Gore), you can use a chuckle. Here it is.

Every state is "special" for one reason or another. So, someone with far too much time on their hands put this together - the United States of Shame. Enjoy.

I will add that the Massachusetts distinction is absolutely correct.

HT: Ace of Spades.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Englisizing The Paper

I'm in editing mode. Lately, I've been working with a couple of coauthors who are very, very good theorists. Their game theory/math chops are so much better than mine that I try not to discuss it. In addition, one of them is very connected with the top people in the accounting area (he was the other's chair, which is how we met).

They just dropped about a 40 page current version of a paper we've been working on for quite a while. The logic of the paper flows soundly, and the empirics are solid.

Unfortunately, neither of my coauthors has English as a mother tongue. So, I'm in charge of "Englishizing" the paper.

Oh my!

Update: I may have given the wrong impression (at least, based on a comment by Bob Jensen). My colleague and I have been working on this paper for quite some time, and we've all been involved with most parts of the paper (with the exception of the game-theoretic part, which is admittedly not my strength). My contributions have been primarily in the designing of the tests (my colleague is a game theorist, not an empiricist) and in the final editing of the paper.
Since I did my early education at Our Lady of the Bleeding Knuckles Elementary School (and yes, they did use the curtain rod), I received pretty good training in the fundamentals of what I call the "micro" part of writing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Don't Work Well Under Deadlines

"I don't work well under deadlines. But without them, I don't work at all."

I heard that line about 15 years ago from my dissertation chair, and it's stuck with me.

In the last three weeks, I've sent off three papers to conferences.
  • For one, I had to edit abut 40 pages or so. My coauthor (who is a theorist and non0native speaker) wrote the first draft. It's a good idea, but the writing needed a lot of work. We sent it off to the American Accounting Association Meeting. We also sent it off to a regional conference, because the school whee one of my coauthors works at counts these things.
  • A second is a paper that's been floating around for a while. It needed one final going over before submitting to a journal. We realized a week ago that the initial version had been submitted to the Financial Management Association (FMA) conference and rejected a year ago. This version has a lot more stuff in it and is much more polished. However, I hadn't gotten around to making the last few changes to it. So, I finished them and sent it off to the FMA conference. Now it just needs a little more work and we can submit it to a journal.
  • A third piece involved a paper we'd talked about with a graduate student. It involves a cross-breeding of his dissertation data and a previous paper done by the coauthor from the paper above. We got the dataset from the student with ten days to go before the deadline, and I started writing things up while my other coauthor started the data analysis. Somehow, we produced a 30 page paper with decent results in that time. It also got submitted to FMA. It still needs work, but I think we can have a journal-submittable version in a month or so.
Final tally - three papers submitted to 4 conferences in a span of about 2 weeks, followed by 12 hours of solid sleep.

Now I need to finish edits on a short piece that has a conditional acceptance. There's no deadline looming, but I'm in the groove from the last couple of weeks, so I'm here at the College on MLK day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Toilet Training the Unknown Baby Boy

This post is further proof that child rearing rots your brain. I'm actually posting on a finance blog about toilet training my kid. Ah well, it give me a break from madly working on the paper I'm trying to finish for the FMA deadline - I already sent one, but this one is insurance.

The Unknown Baby Boy (a.k.a. "Knucklehead") isn't toilet trained yet. He turns 2 in late March, so we're in no rush - if we make it to the warm weather, we'll probably use the time-honored approach of letting him run around outside with no pants on (yes, trees will be involved, and let the neighbors beware).

It's a time-honored tradition for guys to make a game out of their "liquidity management" (hey - it's a finance blog, so I have to at least make a pun in that direction. Some people advocate using little targets for the little guy when training (he can;t write cursive yet, so that's out...). But Sega has taken it to a whole other level. They've come out with game (called "Toylets") that's currently in selected locations in Tokyo where you can play video games by peeing in a urinal. Here's a short article:
In the early ’90s, Sega held 65% of the US video game console market, had millions of fans, and was considered one of the premier creators of modern gaming entertainment. Today, they are helping you play with your pee. The Japan branch of the multinational company recently announced that they are testing their Toylets male urinal video game at select locations around Tokyo. Toylets uses a pressure sensor located on the back of the urinal to measure the strength and location of your urine stream. A small LCD screen above the urinal allows you to play several simple video games including a simulator for erasing graffiti and a variation on a sumo wrestling match. At the end of a game, the screen displays advertisements.

... the four types of video games on the Toylets include:

“Mannekin Pis”: a simple measurement of the urine produced.
“Graffiti Eraser”: where you move your urine back and forth to remove paint
“The North Wind and Her”: a game where you play the wind, trying to blow a girl’s skirt up. The stronger you pee, the stronger the wind blows.
“Milk from Nose”: A variation on sumo wrestling, where you try to knock the other player out of the ring using the strength of your urine flow (shown as milk spraying from your nose). The record of your pee is saved and used as the opponent for the next player. So the game is sort of multiplayer. Toylets even lets you save information onto a USB drive! I fear the MMORPG that will arise from this.

Read the whole thing here.

To quote George Takei, Oh my!

I need some metal floss. Now back to work.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting Ready To Start Classes

I'm still in the midst of hurriedly putting a paper together for the FMA deadline (Friday). So, it's pretty much been reading articles, writing, reading, writing, rewriting, rewriting, etc...

But during my breaks, I try to put a bit of time in on my next semester's classes. I'm teaching Investments again after a couple of years' break, so I'm redoing my syllabus (it['s a new edition of the text, too).

When this happens, my thoughts invariable turn to teaching (not just WHAT to teach, but HOW and WHY). Here's some good advice on the HOW: don't use Dilbert's approach to answering students' questions:

That is, unless you're tenured and don't care about evaluations. Of course, if you're tenured, you might often feel the need to use to respond to many of your colleagues. At least, that seems how it works in a few cases I've seen.

Ah well - I'm done with my workout and time to get to work (and it's not even 6:30 yet). Somehow, I've become a morning person over the last few months - The Unknown Wife works out at the Y from 6-7 with a friend (the friend has time constraints. So, if I'm going to get mine in , I have to be at the Y by 5 when it opens. This means getting up at 4:30 - I know at least one of my readers (Gerry) would approve.