International Math Olympiad

November 2, 2009

Problem Sets –


Mara Faccio & David Parsley: Quantifying cost of influence

June 15, 2009

Many firms voluntarily incur the costs of attempting to influence politicians. However, estimates of the value of political connections have been made in only a few extreme cases. We propose a new approach to valuing political ties that builds on these previous studies. We consider connected to a politician all companies headquartered in the politician’s home town, and use an event study approach to value these ties at their unexpected termination. Analysis of a large number of sudden deaths from around the world since 1973 reveals a market adjusted 1.7% decline in the value of geographically connected companies. The decline in value is followed by a drop in the rate of growth in sales and access to credit. Our results additionally show a larger effect for family firms, firms with high growth prospects, firms operating in industries over which the politician has jurisdiction, and firms headquartered in highly corrupt countries.

Here’s the original paper from SocialScienceResearchNetwork:

Bloomber & WSJ picked up this:
“To the extent that politicians favor inefficient (family) firms by allocating resources to them, long-term economic growth will also be reduced,” according to the paper.  In addition, the authors found that politically connected firms “suffer a statistically significant decline in sales growth” and access to credit between the year prior to the sudden death and the year after. 

Health Care Initiative :  “Stock prices should be unpredictable; nobody can predict them,” Parsley said. “Yet we have a model that can predict stock returns.”

… It is possible, based on the results of the study, to stay on top of the obituaries, short some politically connected companies and walk away with a profit.

Roger Warner: Beyond Clint Eastwood – Justice for Hmong tribes

June 10, 2009

The Hmong are a tribe from the mountains of Laos, in Southeast Asia. They fought for the C.I.A. in a little-known sideshow to the Vietnam war. For a people that didn’t even use the wheel in their old country, the Hmong have done phenomenally well as immigrants to America. A solid Hmong-American middle class – soldiers, lawyers, accountants, chicken farmers, store owners and college students – far outnumbers the urban hoodlums. What haunts Hmong-Americans as an ethnic group is that the war they left behind in Laos has never entirely ended. And what frustrates them is that the U.S. government, while occasionally pretending to care, has made the problem worse instead of solving it.

A third of a century after the U.S. armed forces pulled out of Southeast Asia, Laotian soldiers of the old-line communist regime still hunt and kill men, women, and children belonging to the last few Hmong resistance bands. The leaders of the resistance bands were all trained by the C.I.A. when they were young. Most of them are grandfathers now. They have satellite phones, gifts from their American relatives. From remote jungle mountainsides, they call family members in Minnesota, or Wisconsin, or California, and forlornly ask when the U.S. military is going to come back and save them from their enemies.
Roger Warner is a frequent traveler to Southeast Asia, and is the author of Shooting At The Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos, which won the Overseas Press Club’s book of the year award.

Why America is a bank-owned state

June 10, 2009

In 2006, the top one per cent of American households’ share of all disposable income amounted to almost a quarter of all households’ disposable income, according to Robert Hunter Wade, professor of political economy at the London School of Economics.

In crude terms, one per cent of the population have a quarter of all the wealth.

Moreover, Wade found the average income of the bottom 90 per cent of the population remained almost stagnant after 1980, although consumption kept rising thanks to the build-up of private debt.

This means that 90 per cent of the American economy were financing their American dream on debt.
Where were the signs that things were going to end disastrously and, worse still, that the most vulnerable might end up paying the heftiest and most disproportionate price than anyone else?

I believe the status quo was allowed to go unquestioned because banks were benefiting obscenely from the interest on our debt, and governments were in cahoots with these banks.

Let’s not forget that governments conveniently moved away from the provision of affordable healthcare, free university education and affordable housing while the banks entered our lives, aggressively, to fill that void.

In addition, I think that this warped and unjust way of operating was not questioned because the electorate was kept in the dark in the most subtle way possible.

The whole issue was made invisible. It was kept off the radar screens of electoral politics.

The American electorate were made accomplice to this because they were convinced that what was good for Wall Street, was good for America as a whole.

It was a political sleight of hand of the highest order. And this explains the bipartisan agreement to the ill-designed deregulation of the finance sector that we have seen over the years.

America has become a bank-owned state.
— Samah El-Shahat, Al Jazeera’s resident economist

Further Samah points to Roubini’s article that this is a Crisis of Solvency not of Liquidity

Cache Misses – more expensive than Mhz?

June 5, 2009

SPECjbb performance on CMP architectures

Street Food in SF

May 26, 2009

The Creme Brulee Cart is one of many licensed and unlicensed food vendors who have recently hit the streets of San Francisco, especially in the Mission District. The area’s bars, streets and parks host a caravan of food sellers who connect to their customers via social networking Web sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But the trend, which is playing out across the country, goes beyond individual efforts. The nonprofit La Cocina will host its first San Francisco Street Festival in August, followed by a similar Eat Real Festival in Oakland from the organizers of Slow Food Nation. A new street food-focused market will debut at the Ferry Building on Thursdays in July.

Michael Lewis: Icelandic tragedy.. Wall Street on the Tundra

March 4, 2009

The world is now pocked with cities that feel as if they are perched on top of bombs. The bombs have yet to explode, but the fuses have been lit, and there’s nothing anyone can do to extinguish them. Walk around Manhattan and you see empty stores, empty streets, and, even when it’s raining, empty taxis: people have fled before the bomb explodes. When I was there Reykjavík had the same feel of incipient doom, but the fuse burned strangely. The government mandates three months’ severance pay, and so the many laid-off bankers were paid until early February, when the government promptly fell. Against a basket of foreign currencies the krona is worth less than a third of its boom-time value. As Iceland imports everything but heat and fish, the price of just about everything is, in mid-December, about to skyrocket. A new friend who works for the government tells me that she went into a store to buy a lamp. The clerk told her he had sold the last of the lamps she was after, but offered to order it for her, from Sweden—at nearly three times the old price.
Wall Street on the tundra

Ultra Short ETFs only good for a day!

February 2, 2009

“It’s pretty easy to understand why some investors would be attracted to funds that promise double returns. For example, let’s look at the uninitiated investor that is considering a purchase of the NASDAQ 100, to which investors can easily gain exposure by buying PowerShares (QQQQ).

Here’s the typical (misguided) thought process:

1) I’m convinced that QQQQ will go up 10% a year, so I’d like to own it;
2) But there is a fund, Ultra QQQ ProShares (QLD) that promises 2X the Nasdaq’s return;
3) And 20% is more than 10%;
4) So I’ll just buy the leveraged fund (QLD) and be twice as happy.

Seems like a reasonable conclusion, right? After all, the fund’s literature clearly promises twice the daily return of the index. But the key word is daily. Daily is not monthly, and it’s definitely not annually.”

If you were prescient enough to predict the collapse of real estate last year, you could have earned a savory 40% return by shorting iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate (IYR) So logic would hold that owning UltraShort Real Estate ProShares (SRS) would have produced a positive 80% return, right? Absolutely wrong. I say absolutely because, in absolute terms, you would have lost even more money using the double-short fund—which is supposed to go up when the index goes down. The disappointing truth: the funds worked like they were supposed to. Before you declare my last statement as blasphemous, the fund did indeed perform as the prospectus declared it would. It is the investor that held the leveraged or inverse fund for more than a single day that erred in practice.

sf family appreciation day – Jan 11

January 3, 2009

Free SF Family (w/ kids) day at 32 museums and other attractions… If only we can find one or two each block?
sfkids link here

Espresso Tasting & Best Espresso in SF

January 1, 2009

f the 1970s – where no one could taste that their fancy restaurant coffee had been secretly replaced – the general public’s concept of coffee tasting has not evolved much beyond that. However, coffee tasting is well established in professional circles, with international standards for the procedure, a somewhat standardized vocabulary, and a common set of criteria. (Elswhere on this site, I outline the common criteria used for all the coffee reviews in this guide: brightness (or acidity), aroma, body, flavor, and – particularly for espresso – crema.)

There are professionals in the coffee industry who perform this task routinely, not unlike a wine sommelier, through a process formally known as cupping. Yet instead of the elegance and refinement often associated with wine tasting, sucking, slurping, and spitting – and a series of other guttural gymnastics beyond the tolerances of acceptable dining etiquette – characterize the cupping ritual. (Part of this is because coffee cuppers are more often tasting for defects, rather than for ideal flavor, before purchasing a large shipment of coffee.)

For all the perceived snobberies that can accompany wine tasting, coffee tasting can rival many of them. Both have an agricultural foundation with significant sensitivities to climate, regions, and estates. Their qualities are significantly affected by numerous environmental, ingredient, and equipment factors – and by human technique. Both employ the use of blends to bring out more well-rounded characteristics.

And if you presumed wine was a far more complex tasting affair than coffee, you may be surprised to learn that coffee possesses over 1,500 aromatic and flavor compounds – compared with approximately 200 for wine.

Here’s one espresso rating in SF:
Blue Bottle (SOMA) comes up top, followed by Coffee Bar in Portrero

Ritual & Four Barrel take 3 & 6th tied with notable others. SF Espresso is coming of age… Will update the post as I get more ratings/tastings

More info from the same source,

AKA “Mouthfeel”
Body is a measure of the density of the espresso. Sometimes called mouthfeel, it reflects the weight of the coffee solids that make it into the cup. The deepness and richness of an espresso’s color is also a measure of its body.

I rated a full-bodied espresso higher than one that’s thin, weak, or diluted. Therefore I often gave a shorter pour – or an espresso made with the same amount of coffee but less water – a higher rating. A shorter pour is more likely to possess its own natural sweetness, and a longer pour is more likely to taste bitter.

An espresso shot is called over-extracted if an excessive amount of water is used to draw the flavors out of a given amount of coffee. Not only does an over-extracted espresso taste weak and bitter, but also it generally contains more caffeine – which is mostly derived from the water-soluble elements of the ground coffee. Therefore, a properly made espresso is neither bitter nor more caffeinated than a typical cup of joe.”


“Aroma is the smell of the brewed espresso. A great espresso aroma is good enough to “eat.” The senses of taste and smell are highly intertwined, and a flavorful espresso made from freshly roasted beans typically releases a delicious aroma when served.A not-so-good espresso aroma is flat, stale, or smells more like cheap drip coffee. Equally bad is an espresso without a discernable aroma. A good espresso often derives a lot of its pleasant aromas from its crema, so the two criteria are loosely related.”