Random thoughts of an economist

Does it look suspicious to you? Check please!

Posted in Economics, Information, Leisure, teaching by kafuwong on October 9, 2014

A friend sent me a striking table of “actuarial study of life span vs. age at retirement”. The table shows a person who retires at age 49.9 will die at 86 on average, and a person who retires at age 65.2 will live to 66.8 on average. The data suggests that I should consider retiring early.

Wait a minute! A person who retires at age 65.2 will live to 66.8 on average? It is absolutely not consistent with my casual observations.

I could not help doing a quick search of “actuarial study of life span vs. age at retirement” (without the quotation marks, of course). Surprisingly, I found that the table was founded based on a real study –- a Boeing study done almost 30 years ago. The study has been circulated in the internet for many years and finally reached me. Lucky me!

Interestingly, Boeing has tried to tell the public that the chart or table was wrong. According to Boeing, there is simply no correlation between age at retirement and life expectancy of Boeing retirees.

Why are such rumors still around? I think it is because most users in the internet are not willing to spend much time questioning and verifying the accuracy of the information. Spreading some seemingly striking news/information attracts attention. Most of us feel happier with more attention from our friends. There is a cost of verifying the accuracy of the information, though. Such comparison of COST and BENEFIT dictates our decision whether to spread the rumors, though implicitly.

Spreading news/information is understandably more costly to people with good reputation of providing accurate information. Thus, one would expect reputable reporters less likely to spread news/information without careful verification. That tells us where to turn if we want accurate information and where to turn if we want some rumors to enjoy.

I do not like this kind of rumors. I try not to spread suspicious items. At the same time, though, I do like to test my ability in catching such problematic information and verifying them. It has become one of my major pastime. LOL.

Additional readings:
http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/empinfo/benefits/pension/seminars/Rumor.pdf
http://www.intmath.com/blog/retiring-early-means-a-longer-life-an-urban-myth/822
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18952037

Are you selling body art, pornography or cars?

Posted in China, Leisure, Parenting by kafuwong on March 29, 2014

A friend forwarded to me pictures taken in a supposedly car show. Most of the people in there pictures were not looking at cars. Instead, their eyes were on the so called body art on naked women. Apparently, some car shows in China has started to include body art on naked women as an additional attraction.

I have no objection on body art, on naked women and men. I have no objection on car shows. But, mixing them annoys me.

I think such body art on naked women is better shown in night clubs than in car shows. The theme of the car show is supposedly cars. If I go to a car show, I want to see cars. If I want to see art, I go to a museum or a gallery. If I want to see a show of naked women, I will go to some night club. If paint on naked women is really an art piece, show them in a museum and admit only adults.

Showing naked women in a car show (packaged as body art) is way OUT OF LINE.

I like photography

Posted in Economics, Leisure, Life, Photography, teaching by kafuwong on February 4, 2014

Who doesn’t like photography!

Photography was an expensive hobby. I could not imagine buying a camera, films, and printing the pictures out. I still remember that my family owned a camera, but the cost of buying a roll of film and printing the pictures (i.e., the marginal cost of shooting pictures) was prohibitively high — at least in my childhood.

Photography is no longer an expensive hobby. With a digital camera, we can shoot as many as we want to (constrained only by the size of the memory card). There is no need to print to see what we shoot. We can see the image with a computer or on the screen of the camera. A dramatic reduction in the marginal cost of shooting pictures has encouraged more shooting. Suddenly, everyone is shooting. As the cost of sharing pictures on the internet is low, everyone is sharing.

Just like many others, I has begun to shoot more pictures. At the beginning, they were just for records. Nothing exciting, frankly speaking.

What stimulated my interest in photography was really the acquaintance of an expert, who later become my close friend. He taught me what was good, what was not — with a lot of patience. As I started to shoot more pictures, I began to share my experience with other close friends whom I never knew their expertise in photography before. Now, I have not just one “laoshi” (the putonghua pronunciation of “teacher”), but many of them. Some of my photography “laoshi” are my friends in Facebook and Renren (a Chinese counterpart of Facebook). Yes, some of them happened to be my students of Microeconomics.

Aside from enjoyment, photography complements my teaching and research. They are similar in that they all require us to look at things from different angles and find new ways of seeing things. In photography, we need to find new ways of seeing the world. Different angles — left and right, high and low, above and below, etc. Good pictures always teach me the new ways of seeing things. It could be the case that I passed by the same building every day, but I never noticed that ways of looking at the building.

Photography slows me down. Even without a camera, a photographer pays attention to the environment and things happening around him. There is a lot of joy to seeing things from new angles.

Photography requires patience. Often, we need to wait for the right person to pass by before we take photo. May it be the trespassing lady in red, or the reflection off a building from a sunset.

I was told by a friend with much wisdom: Life is like a path full of many beautiful things; unfortunately most of us race through the path and never slow down to appreciate the beauty. Photography helps me slow down to appreciate these beautiful things in the world I am in.

No. I do not do selfies.

What do you know about drumstick?

Posted in Information, Leisure by kafuwong on May 11, 2012

On Facebook, a friend updated her status “Omg I got a drumstick”.  Several friends liked her status.  I felt peer pressure!  Would look stupid if I failed to like her status when everyone likes it?

Why would anyone be so excited about having a drumstick?  Drumstick is supposed to be “the leg of chicken”, isn’t it?  There must be a reason.  Thanks to the internet, I found that drumstick can mean several things (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drumstick).  (1) Drum stick can be a tool for playing drums; (2) Drumstick can be a kind of vegetable (Moringa Oleifera) that can keep the glucose level in the blood in check. (“This fact is based on a research done in the Department of Nutritional Science, Faculty of Applied Bioscience, Tokyo University of Agriculture, Sakuragaoka, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, Japan. “, http://diabetes.ygoy.com/2009/10/08/drumsticks-can-reduce-blood-sugar-level/); drumstick can mean ice cream (in fact, Drumstick is a brand of ice cream); drumstick can mean the leg of a bird; Drumstick can mean a video game character found in Diddy Kong Racing; Drumstick can be a chewy candy by Swizzels Matlow; Drumsticks can be an Indian film (produced in 1955). 

Thank you so much, my friend.  Although I still do not know what you meant, your status helped me learn the various meaning of drumstick, especially Drumstick  (Moringa Oleifera) that can help regulate blood sugar level.

Why are the US-made DVD so expensive in Hong Kong?

Posted in Economics, Movie, Parenting, Research, teaching by kafuwong on January 28, 2012

I could not believe my eyes when I saw the price differentials of a DVD set across regions in this globalized world. 

Monk is an American comedy-drama detective mystery television series from 2002 to 2009.  Eight seasons in total.  DVDs by seasons or complete series are available for sale.  Among detective TV series, this is much more suitable for kids/teens than other dective series, such as CSI, I have ever watched.  We bought the DVD of the first season of Monk as a test.  It was good.  So, we went out to get the other seasons. 

Surprised!  The complete series DVD set at the Hong Kong HMV online (store specialized in sales of DVD products) costs HK$2385 (about US$305).  It is almost the same as the cost of buying 8 DVDs of separate seasons.  Should we not expect the complete series at the Hong Kong HMV online (store specialized in sales of DVD products) to cost much less than the cost of buying 8 DVDs of separate seasons? 

Unconvinced, I checked the cost of similar items in Amazon.  The complete series DVD set (new, not used) is available at $100, and is much cheaper than the eight seasons sold separately.  Good deal!  So, I submitted my order with my Hong Kong shipping address.  Amazon refused to accept my order.  They will not ship to Hong Kong.  What prevents them to ship to Hong Kong?  I Wonder!

I can ask a friend in the US to purchase it and ship it over.  The US postal service will charge me about US$60.  If I ask my friend to do so, there will be a gain of US$140, to be shared among us.   If I ask a friend who is about to return to or to visit Hong Kong to bring me the DVD, there will be a gain of $200 to be shared among us.  Good profit if a local DVD store can ask a flight attendant or passengers to bring in similar products from the States.  The bigger the price differential, the bigger the incentive to engage in such activity (such activities is often called parallel imports). 

Such parallel import activities should narrow the price differential, shouldn’t it?  Why are we seeing the 200% difference in prices in Hong Kong and the United States?  A puzzle to me.  An opportunity to you?

3 idiots (作死不離3兄弟)

Posted in Movie by kafuwong on August 23, 2011

This is one of the best movies I have ever seen in years.  A friend sent me the links to clips.  I liked it so much that I tried to rent it at my neighborhood video store.  No luck.  I then found out that the movie was never shown in Hong Kong.  I checked several other video stores before I found it at HMV.  DVD with English subtitles only.  For a family of three, the movie is worth more than 240 HK dollars (the list price at HMV). 

The movie bought lots of laughter and tears.  We recommended to a friend in the States during our visit.  She loved it to.  Again, full of laughter and tears. 

I am sure most of my friends will enjoy it too. 

Now it is on big screen in Hong Kong.  Go see it if you have not yet!

[Description from Wikipedia]

“Marathon” — an excellent movie!

Posted in Leisure, Movie, Parenting by kafuwong on April 21, 2010

Watched the Korean movie “Marathon” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon_(2005_film) a while ago.  I still talk about it.  It is a such a good movie. 

I thought only parents would enjoy it.  It turns out that my ten-year-old son talks about it too.  Enjoy!