Living in exile

Not very well thought out, not creative enough, not representing the views of my employer

A mini-dump for now

The past days were hell. I was exposed to a lot of stimuli: indifference, hate, frustration, humor, Chinese typing, equipment handling, app wrangling, etc. It can be overloading. Last night, I dumped all of the thoughts and gunk in my head into an anonymous post in this blog. I will release this soon. The gunk in my head was worth 2500 words or so. It felt great to dump all of this gunk that I was able to lie down and relax. I will publish this post soon.

I do not think telling people “辛苦了” is good. I always respond, “不是辛苦,是痛苦!”. I would rather that we really expend the effort, be frustrated, and help each other find a way to make it less 辛苦 in the first place. Perhaps the first step is to really sit down, prepare in advance, and really listen to each other and do something about it. We have to spend time getting to know each other, just like any relationship.

I really envy people who can really be indifferent. I do not know whether they are also indifferent in other aspects of their lives, perhaps they care a lot but not in the things I care about. That is ok. But I wish they could announce it explicitly and not use implicit signals — it helps to resolve uncertainty and lessens the time spent on a collective task. If you, dear reader, are like the person I described, try pining for someone who is indifferent to you. On the other hand, I will imagine being pined by someone who is eager.

My stream-of-consciousness recollection of last spring semester

During the spring semester 2020, I had to teach a class of only international students roughly spanning three different major time zones, GMT-5, GMT, GMT+8. I was aware of this even before the university started announced that classes will be fully online. Furthermore, I actually know by name/face the students who are going to attend classes. I also know where they are now. I would rank this as the biggest benefit: early awareness.

During the winter break when the outbreak started gaining momentum, I was already looking into how to make videos, thinking about how to adjust accordingly, and specifying what exactly I want to happen. I believe this is another benefit: imagining what you want to have and being explicit about them if you were in the position of the student.

In the end, I felt alone since I was in the most unique situation of having only international master and PhD students in the class at that time (correct me here if I am wrong, now I remember that there were four other instructors teaching a smaller batch of students). I did not ask for help until really needed. For example, I think I became aware around mid April 2020 that Zoom will no longer be free in China (for personal accounts). Glad that I had a backup, but it has bumps here and there. I even created a Linode server with Jitsi installed but the server was extremely slow and I do not think the school/university would have reimbursed me. Was this a good assumption? Perhaps. I would have to expend energy to just convince someone that what I am asking for is appropriate and necessary. And I do not want to do this anymore. I stopped a few months after I started this job. I sometimes still ask but it is much more sparingly now. It rose to the extent that I just pay for things myself, much to the surprise of my colleagues.

That was the time I asked for help from the school technician to request a “corporate” account. I was granted permanent links to the scheduled time slots instead. This was helpful but I can only speculate why a “corporate” account could not be granted. For all the talk about convenience, there surely are layers of getting convenience.

What I want my colleagues to know

  • The apps we use by default in China do not necessarily function very well outside of China, especially for foreigners. For example, I cannot scan AliPay QR codes in HK to pay a store. So fucking embarrassing. This might have changed from that time. I do not know and do not want to know anymore.
  • The apps we use by default in China are cognitively demanding. It takes time to figure out. I would argue that foreigners and the local old Chinese people (who have to use cellphones for the first time) are remarkably similar. Therefore, the true strategy is to enable international students to use the apps without condescension. Of course, English customer service is always a good thing to use too. So far, I have enjoyed the English customer service of AliPay and DingTalk.
  • That in my admin style I will not make you feel alone the way I felt alone when I was doing the online class last spring 2020.
  • That I even use the Chinese language to communicate and reach out for work-related stuff (I admit sometimes begrudgingly because I do not know all the words/usages/nuances of the language and I have to rehearse what I say). I also type Chinese in pinyin rather than relying on translation, so it is really cognitively demanding. I do not enjoy it unless the topic is actually fun. I do not think my Chinese language skills are at the level of an elementary graduate. Sure, I might pass a test but that does not directly translate to ability. I keep my spirits up through good humor instead. But I admit this has its limits.
  • That I assume the worst because I cannot get cooperation (what people call 协调 and 配合) in even the most basic of things: to be able to go back to my family with the certainty of being able to come back to the university for work. That is why my blog name is called Living in Exile. Of course, I am being “compensated” for it and I am grateful for it, but “compensation” has its limits.
  • What worked for you when you were younger does not necessarily mean that it will work now. Furthermore, the conditions you were subjected to need not be the conditions you subject a future generation of students.
  • Fairness, whatever it may mean, is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Finally, when you are in a class with both domestic and international students and a domestic student asks a question in Chinese, please translate the question to English and give an answer in English. It feels bad to be excluded.

What I wanted and did not want for myself and my students:

  • I should respect time zones of everyone to the greatest extent possible.
  • I should be mindful of internet access (not everyone has good internet access!!).
  • I should divide my desktop screen into two parts: one part that contains slides and one part that simulates or emulates a “whiteboard”.
  • I should have an independent writing tablet so that I can write better on the “whiteboard”.
  • I wanted a recording that takes in my microphone input (and at times computer audio output) and my split screen.
  • I did not want students to install any other software like DingTalk, QQ on top of WeChat.
  • I also wanted to separate the personal from the professional. The only thing I asked the students to use is a dedicated place for discussion that is intuitive to use. I wanted them to use Slack (here it is unavoidable to register for an account).
  • I did not want to check attendance because circumstances are different. I also did not want to check attendance on behalf of someone who has more economies of scale in doing so.
  • I strongly wanted a change from the typical exam assessment style.
  • I did not want to be micro-managed and be monitored.

Apps like WeChat, QQ, DingTalk take so much disk space without telling you. I am also wary of where the “recordings” go to be honest. My collective WeChat data since starting my job here is 2.8GB in size!!! WTF? Whose convenience is being served? WeChat simply cannot function as a discussion board even with its newer Quote function (Fun fact: I have not updated my WeChat since last year!!),. My colleagues sometimes could not be bothered to read the messages — how can you expect our students to do the same??? Slack is relatively better and has a concept of discussion threads so that similar topics can be aggregated and traced to a unqiue source. I did not use Piazza at that time because when I used it in China last spring 2017 and 2018, it choked now and then (it has some Google-related components when loading).

To be fair to WeChat, I am grateful for its Search Chat History function. I believe every student should learn this function early, based on my experience with new international students. This allows you to filter files, photos and videos, even chat sources (who sent the messages), and more. This is perhaps the most useful function of the app and why a big data file sits within your phone (and likely somewhere else — this feels like distributed storage).

For the assessment, I was willing to grade over the entire semester. This means that deadlines are almost non-existent, but I provide milestones so that students know at what point some things have to be more or less available but strict submission deadline is not enforced. “Submit at your own time within the semester” would be the best description. It created a lot of work for me but then I wanted my students to feel that they are really taken care of, although they may protest to the level of care I give. I was also willing to just have one exam component and the rest are projects. We still have not had the conversation about the exam proctoring and how to handle exam assessment on a bigger scale.

What I had and what price I was willing to pay

  • The drive to figure out things for myself without asking for help: understanding in my own terms
  • The university learning management system (one of the few bright moments in the whole experience, though with heartache)
  • An HP-Spectre x360 laptop that can be turned into a tablet for writing (not very useful in Linux but useful in Windows)
  • An extra 17” monitor that has an EasyRead feature so that it is all in black and white
  • A Zoom account, awareness of Jitsi (think of this as a burner phone but for videos, no account registration and all that bullshit AND you can join their community call!), 8x8 account (the corporate side of Jitsi; now 8x8 requires paying)
  • My own paid end-to-end encrypted file sharing service (no need to download or register for those given a file link!). I had a layer of backup to guard against things that could go wrong and it did. Some of my students were unable to access the video archive at the university learning management system. This file sharing service did not ask students to register an account!
  • When I learned from the news of Zoom's data handling practices, I also installed Obs Studio (had to learn it by trial and error myself; I call this software LaTeX but for videos) and Handbrake (for processing a large high quality file into something manageable and uploadable to our learning management) and completely avoided the recording feature of Zoom.

Zoom recordings are compressed. A better option is to keep two versions: an uncompressed version (for future re-use in a course) and a compressed version (for on-demand viewing). I had a 1.5 hour class before and the uncompressed version reached 11 GB at least based on my settings for Obs Studio (again, not professionally trained!). The compressed version becomes about 250 MB or so after going through Handbrake. I frequently ran out of disk space.

What I did not have

  • Some technical niceties: Microsoft Surface, Apple products, green screen, good camera (only used built-in laptop camera, but did not need it in the end)
  • A big picture with small details briefing from the top management in my working/professional language
  • Better internet access (would have wanted to have all cameras turned on)
  • A written document in English, whether crowdsourced or top-down, containing best practices (We only have scattered and untimely information here and there. Dan Levy's Teaching Effectively with Zoom and Gary King's How and Why Do You Make These Videos?)

Other things in the last semester

Since there were no physical seminars for international (and domestic) students during the pandemic, I had to improvise. Thankfully, I have planned for this last 2019 already. One extremely difficult aspect of the seminars is not the seminar but the seat reservation and attendance checking. I will not bore you with the details of the seat reservation and the need for attendance checking. But the key thing is that reserving a seat is different from getting a seat and there is an algorithm that decides which student gets the privilege of a seat.

I would like to believe that our international students have tried and was frustrated by the system. I also believe that some of these students are not trying hard enough. Regardless of the case, I could not blame them. Some of my colleagues think that I am too pro-student but this is not true. You only need to see how many international students I have failed repeatedly in courses to know that I mean business.

So I pitched the “webinar” concept. The “webinar” is really me downloading a publicly available video and then streaming this video over Zoom (Activate share computer sound/output in Zoom!!!!!). The whole process is absurd but I have to conform with the regulations. The “webinar” allows me to deal with the seminar reservation problem, allows students to finish the seminars as early as possible, and I can ensure that the seminars are in English (you will be surprised how much Chinese language seminars our international students sit through to pass away the time).

Despite the absurdity I described, I think that by selecting “webinars” for viewing, I was able to somewhat catch up on some interesting topics myself and I had to watch more to filter and adjust the level accordingly. I believe some of my colleagues invite speakers that have topics which would benefit an extremely restricted set of audiences. By increasing the number of “webinars”, there is more diversity in the topics. This took a lot of my time too. I must admit this is difficult to scale to domestic students. But sitting down to talk about it is the first step.

Concluding remarks

I reached roughly 2500 words again. You may argue that I have been projecting my own problems and then thinking these are also the problems of international students. YOU ARE WRONG. If you were involved, you will question the assumptions you make.

My headache/neckache is somewhat subsiding now. Earlier reading: Blood pressure 151/104, 97 beats per minute. Reading after some editing: Blood pressure 152/118, 93 beats per minute. Will talk more about these in another post.

#OnlineClasses #Personal #TeachingDuringCOVID #Rants

I have been meaning to talk, or at least put into words, how to look at a body of work (scientific, artistic, etc) if the producer of such work has been disgraced by a scandal. What follows is very incomplete and likely disorganized.

I used to watch Louis C.K.'s TV series Louie. It was an amazing show, especially the fourth season's Elevator arc and Pamela's arc. I haven't watched these episodes (although they are very good) for more than 5 years, especially in light of the Louis C.K.'s scandal. This made me wonder about another series that was somewhat “tainted” by the actions of a member of an ensemble. Parks and Recreation was a good show too but Aziz Ansari was also dragged into an accusation. He even talked about it in his Netflix standup special, which I never watched. I still watch Parks and Rec. Perhaps in my mind, the part does not represent the whole. How do you separate the art from the artist? Should we condemn the works of art because of indiscretions by a artist? What makes answering this question hard is that indiscretion depends on the parties involved and the current societal rules.

Another example much closer to my field is R. A. Fisher. The University of Adelaide maintains a digital archive of his collected papers. I invite you to take a look and profile a person who is quite multidimensional and contradictory. Calling him a racist is like looking at just the sample mean of a distribution. I am not defending the person because he is already dead. My defense means nothing to him or to me.

R. A. Fisher, as they say, is a product of the times. There are definitely wrong things he says, especially in his “eugenics phase”. Of course, I am overlooking a lot of fights he has with scientists who disagree with him. Eugenics is wrong not because we are looking back and judging using a current yardstick but because it undermines our individual and collective humanity (past or present). Now, systemic and systematic racism is a very salient thing because people are “doing their research”. It has gone to the point that the name of the Fisher Court accommodation block at the Rothamsted Experimental Station has been renamed AnoVa Court. This was a clever move. A bit too late, but clever nonetheless. A big issue is that Fisher's ideas permeate our work. Does that mean we should not use these ideas? Should we repudiate these ideas? Can we separate the science from the scientist? (On a light note, I typed scientits accidentally.)

Perhaps a harder question to grapple with is that many of the conveniences and the improvements in our lives are products of the times in which they were created. Some of these conveniences are products of what we would now consider unethical acts. Some improvements we now enjoy in our lives were products of genetic experimentation on non-consenting subjects. A part of why I think many people react very differently to the “cancel culture” is a lot more basic. I think that having indirect “blood on your hands” may be the core issue. Can it be washed away?

The separation of art/science from the artist/scientist is likely not easy to achieve and we do have to have a conversation about these aspects. Without this conversation, which does not need to be global, we will never get a sense of the diverse opinions towards this matter. We will also struggle to find answers to the narratives we weave: Are scientists heroes? Are artists entitled to be temperamental? Should we forgive transgressions by scientists? An even harder question to answer is: Can bad decisions be balanced by good decisions? Do they somewhat even out?

#Science #Scandals

I am preparing to teach a calculus course again after more than a decade. The calculus course I am going to teach is for incoming first year students. I used to teach a version of calculus using Tom Apostol's books. These books were wonderful and had an unconventional sequencing: integration first before differentiation.

I am toying with an approach to calculus now that I am teaching it again. I have been in an on and off relationship with the attempts by probabilists and statisticians to re-imagine and, sometimes, to re-think proofs for existing results in probability theory and statistics. This re-imagining is sometimes called Radically Elementary Probability Theory (Edward Nelson, 1987). The ideas from this re-imagining depend on nonstandard analysis, or if you wish a calculus using infinitesimals. The result is probability and statistics without relying too much on measure theory (unless really needed) for the rigor. If you get this book, you get to a version of a quite sophisticated central limit theorem in just 80 pages or so, with only high school algebra (and some rules about nonstandard analysis). Charles Geyer has also written some extensions of the ideas in Nelson and is really worth taking a look.

That is why I am finally giving myself the excuse to teach calculus using infinitesimals. H. Jerome Keisler wrote an introductory calculus book along these lines in the 70s. I spent the entire day today reading this book slowly, and considering what a syllabus would look like. I am about 300 pages in. I am also toying with the idea of using Tom Körner's book called Calculus for the Ambitious (aimed at high school students). When I saw the book title, I was sold. A new prep, especially this kind of prep, makes you feel young again and somehow pushes you out of the usual bean-counting that sometimes happens in research.

A side-benefit of choosing the approaches I have described is to wean off Chinese students from looking at the Chinese language books (especially when coursework is in English). The nice thing about the books I mentioned is that I am currently unaware of Chinese translations. That should force the student to listen, communicate, and think in English. More importantly, students will be exposed to different styles of writing which would hopefully improve their own writing. Hopefully, these choices will pay off.

I will report on the progress of this preparation as soon as I could. Now, I do not have a lot to say anymore, I believe I was somewhat exhausted by what I wrote down yesterday.

#Calculus #TeachingDuringCOVID

Today I went to the Entry-Exit Bureau to submit my residence permit renewal. It is such a beauty to see a building with almost no people. The only point where there are people are those entering through the main entrance. They have cordoned the big area around the entrance to let people fall in line. As always, not a lot of people respect falling in line and the 一米 apart guideline and it is unfortunate that the entrance was guarded by only one lady.

She had to take temperatures so that it could be registered at another desk and she had to give guidance to everyone (locals and foreigners) about the procedures. I think she was overwhelmed because many do not respect the sanctity of the queue. Does not mean if there is a gap in the line, that you should fill the gap. Or in more salty language: Not every hole should be dicked. I think I just shouted unconsciously: 你们是不会排队吗? Can't you fall in line? I got a mix of reactions: an old fart who pretended not to hear (typically old fart strategy), a mid-age woman who stepped back, and the lady guarding the entrance finally speaking up and telling them to fall in line. Wrath is one of my favorite deadly sins.

The wrath never ends. After getting back home, we found that the kitchen window, which was left open (勤通风 as they say), allowed some construction dust to enter our home. Remember that construction/re-model two floors up. No fruit basket again and all we have is dust from drilling on our plates, kitchen utensils, and cooking pots. The funny thing is that the owner actually owns not just the flat being remodeled and the flat opposite it, but also another flat four floors down from the two flats!!!! So much money, but so much awfulness. The wrath never really ends.

I also was trying to organize files again and stumbled on PDFs of the crossword section of China Daily. I have a subscription for China Daily just so I could answer the crossword. The crossword section is part of their Life Fun page. It has some comics, other puzzles and an English-Chinese section where they teach you words from the news and other curiosities. It is one of the most useful pages in that newspaper. I discovered China Daily on a flight and was hooked on the crosswords because they get it from the New York Times! It is quite amazing. Regrettably, when I renewed my subscription last December 2019, the crosswords stopped effective January 2020. I got screwed. So, I am going through the entire back catalogue and downloading every crossword from 2013 onwards. That should sustain me for some time once I am off the “tenure track”. If you are interested in subscribing to China Daily, it is relatively easy but their website is not the most secure (so use passwords orthogonal to your most precious passwords). Once subscribed, you can download PDFs of the paper but only by page (as far as I can figure out). So I focus on only one page: Life Fun. Sometimes, I do encounter Life Reading, which does have some approved literature.

What else did I do today? Oh yes, I am about halfway through The Elements of Data Analytic Style (clearly a nod to Strunk and White) by Jeff Leek. It is quite a short book for anyone trying to do data analysis. It has a very nice flowchart at the beginning of the book differentiating the types of data analysis, which I have found useful for admin purposes, especially when thinking about the thesis writing process. Apparently, there are 6 types: descriptive, exploratory, inferential, predictive, causal, and mechanistic. In my opinion, most master theses I have encountered belong to inferential type of data analysis. It is rare to see predictive data analysis but even rarer to see causal data analysis. One thing that was curious about the flowchart is that the phrase “policy implications” never show up. This phrase also does not show up in the entire book! The word “motivation” shows up once as part of the written analysis. Another very interesting point (that we take for granted, and probably should let students know) is that generating figures for oneself and for others are two very different things. You can download the book for free but you can also pay as you want. If you are able to pay, do give some money. Not sure if it is tax-deductible but that should not be the reason to give money. Don't be an asshole like the Zuck.

I was also catching up on some other reading. A new master's student wants to study overdifferenced time series for the master's thesis. I think this was influenced by the student taking my Advanced Econometrics 2 class where we took some time to read Nelson and Plosser (1982) in its entirety. The interest is to determine whether or not there was overdifferencing in an analysis. The student was able to prove, as part of a small project, that the OLS estimator of a regression coefficient of interest using the data on the overdifferenced series is inconsistent for the true regression coefficient (in a simple setting). The student then develops a bias-corrected estimator but requires a lot of strong assumptions. The student also proposed a test for the “presence” of overdifferencing, but his Monte Carlo indicates that it does not work. A nice and early trial to find out how far one could take an analysis.

I never imagined that I would read as much time series papers as I do now. I never liked applied time series analysis before, perhaps it may be because of how cheap (from a software perspective) it has been to produce results. All this beautiful theory in time series somehow got tainted by the improper use of causality tests, Johansen cointegration tests, and many more. In my classes, I actually teach Granger causality testing while doing F-tests and I use the example by Thurman and Fisher (1988?) on which came first, the chicken or the egg? Just to poke fun at this whole G-causality business.

I still have a couple of things to figure out for this blog. I plan to write more econometrics related stuff. I also want to enable comments. I would want to enable math input here. I thought I already figured it out but I have to give this some more time. In principle, I should be able to use LaTeX code here. I also want to start writing a book (after teaching econometrics-related courses to a variety of audiences for many years) called The Applied Theory of Econometrics, a nod to Deirdre McCloskey's The Applied Theory of Price, back when she was The Donald. If I manage to set comments up, perhaps the book can become a living document.

#Rants #OfInterest #Books #Research #Plans

Today was quite an exhausting day filled with little surprises and annoyances. Woke up at around 7-ish. A very loud construction/re-design started at 8 am two floors up. Yes, you read that right 8 am. Fuckers. I went to investigate after about half an hour since there is no use to just tell them to start 30 minutes later. It is still going to be noisy. What I hoped was that the neighbors could write a letter or even just a note to let everyone else they affect that there is going to be a lot of noise from the construction and that there was at least an indication of how long it would take. I am not sure if the Chinese appreciate that kind of notice. I lived here long enough not having found out, as it may depend on the context. But I think a fruit basket would have been nice. We also had a neighbor downstairs that had to enter our place to fix their air conditioning. Was there a fruit basket? NO! The funny thing is that we were the ones with masks and not them. Sometimes I do want to exercise rudeness and be called 野蛮.

When I went two floors up, I was examining the place. It was a complete redesign of the flat. The person who talked with me came from the flat opposite the flat undergoing construction. Turns out she knew the situation. I said to her, 八点就开始吵了,这大概会多久啊? Mentioned it would take about two hours (which I do not believe!). Of course, I was too polite to say bullshit. Remember, positive energy, my dear!

It was awful as two hours turned into the whole day with a respite from 1200 to 1430. Instead of working, I just spent the time cleaning up our war-time balcony. During the outbreak, I have turned the balcony into a big temporary storage space and grew some basil and aloe vera. I also had space for accumulating trash so that I do not have to go downstairs to throw garbage every day (had to seal everything so that there is no 高空抛物). In fact, the original place where I did most of my work turned into a food rations bunker with fresh vegetables, junk food, and other canned goods. The point is to buy a lot and then make big meals that could sustain us without ever going out. There was a point where I bought about 16 kg of small potatoes from Shandong. Lasted us about 5 months.

I digressed. So, I bathed the balcony, cleaned up two big but dead cockroaches, removed all of the 高空抛物 stuff from the neighbors. Most indoor cockroaches (which is completely unavoidable here even in a high-rise) are small because you can control the cleanliness inside to a certain extent. It is the outside and the neighbors that are problematic. Cockroaches that come from the outside (balcony, open window) tend to be much bigger than their indoor counterparts. Not sure if they belong to the same family. The neighbors play a big role in the quantity of cockroaches. We have a neighbor living opposite our flat who puts their trash (the perishable ones, mind you, with the holes in the plastic and trash juices flowing out) outside of their door. You know why? Because they do not want to go down and place their garbage in the cans downstairs!!! The lady who cleans every floor (probably part of 物业 property management) actually takes them with her! What the fuck... I am stunned, as I pay property fees. So every time I pass their door, I raise my middle finger in their honor.

Thankfully, today they are moving out! It feels amazing to get rid of this piece of shit neighbor. Of course, they left a mess in their move, which the cleaning lady has no choice but to clean on their behalf. The outbreak has claimed many lives, and people have not changed. I remember someone saying., “You know, we have a saying in Massachusetts. “Maybe someday you'll get horribly sick and die.” Until then.” Somehow I also understand why the Dutch curse people with diseases, for example vuile kankerhoer (which is quite derogatory as it has evolved to mean fucking whore). Very strange...

So, the balcony is now clear, clean, and the only big thing left is a nonfunctional oven (after one year of extensive use). I plan to give it away to someone who can have it fixed. For now, it stays in the balcony for a while.

Also, one of our plates accidentally got broken. It used to have leftover chapchae. We have a joke (or perhaps rule of thumb?) that once all our plates get broken accidentally, we leave China for good. The first time I lived abroad was when I was doing my master's degree and I brought a stainless steel set consisting of one big plate, one bowl, one flatter bowl, a spoon, a fork, and a cup. My mother bought this for me to bring and I have brought all of these across Europe and to China. The cup died in Paris because the handle just broke. But everything else is still good. In fact, my first cooking pot (bought from Monoprix, apparently a high end grocery store) is still with me. There I cooked rice on a hot plate! So I never understood the rice cooker at all. I only got my first rice cooker after winning a Mid-Autumn Festival game organized by the school. Where was I?

Oh yes, why the plates? Well when I came here to China, I did not bring all the plates we have bought in Europe. I only brought the ones that my mother bought for me. I used them for a month or so. After a while, I think I really needed to get a set of new plates. So I bought a 30-piece autumn themed set. Big plates, small plates, big bowls, small bowls, even smaller bowls for sauces, and so on. I thought of these plates as a permanent set (which I may eventually bring back to the next stop). As of today, 11 are remaining. Of course, we bought other plates but they are transitory. At this rate, it is only a matter of time.

So no academic work done for today. Did some admin that led me to the following questions: What is the length of time needed to respond to a WeChat message that contains a question? What factors affect the length of time to response? Quite frankly, I do not know. Is there even a norm? Does it pay to be explicit about a time limit?

I will talk about admin work another time, especially what it inflicts on the mind, the spirit, the body, and the soul. Research can replenish the mind. Teaching can replenish the spirit. But there is a chasm in the body and the soul. Sometimes seeing how your flock is doing after many years and where they are now can replenish the soul. This leaves the body. Somehow I understand why professors in positions of power abuse such power. The abuse of others can somewhat replenish the body. Of course, this is speculative theory at best.

Sorry to have ended on that rather dark note. Perhaps that is the reason for the rule of thumb involving the plates.

Two months have passed since my last entry. I could not blog very well because all I can release in writing would be anger. I have to find a productive way to process this anger without lashing out too much, especially to people whose lives I really could not possibly know much about. I poured it back into doing as good a work as possible. I was not successful in all cases and I made mistakes along the way.

Today, I have a “reasonable” amount of freedom from everything school related. I could not avoid school completely, since I had to submit grades after quite some deliberation over the past days, set up a planning workshop, and had to answer questions from emails. So these small things were interspersed with a slight headache and an attempt at organizing the files in my computer (once and for all).

I have the following top-level file structure: Admin, Clearinghouse, Pastoral Care, Personal, Research, Teaching, To trash or not to trash, and a text file called file-naming-conventions. The deeper directory structure would be for another day. For now, I am doing a top level sorting. Going through files makes you feel nostalgic. It makes you feel that you may have ignored some things. I saw scans of handwritten edits I have made for my master's students, application files of some master's students, scathing book reviews, awful PPTs I have made, my one-way flight ticket to China from Europe, recommendation letters I have written, a lot of ambitious looking writings, pictures and screenshots, and many more.

Looking back, especially at those ambitious looking writings, reinforces something I heard from Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother, back when it was a novel dataset) — Ambition is the enemy of success.

I also spent some time finally opening the CDs I bought from our trip to Europe last January. I opened some after five months. Five months! Listened to some of the CDs and I really missed liner notes.

Today I listened to half of Lorde's Melodrama, . Lorde's Melodrama CD liner notes have lyrics, quite nice paintings and shots of Lorde, and some nicely written acknowledgements (“I'm in bed writing this. As I often am. The rain is coming down. Melodrama is finished and by the time you read this, it won't be mine anymore, but yours. It's been two year of breathlessness and hunger — a new sound, a new scene; a drink, a drumbeat. I swallowed and wrote and walked and waited. I hope you listen for every breath and broken heartstring.”). I really liked Homemade Dynamite and The Louvre.

Next, I listened to Jean-Yves Thibaudet's The Magic of Satie. It contains never before recorded pieces by Satie. Of course, Gymnopedie No. 1 should not be skipped. This piece would be one of my tracks to bring on a desert island so that I can sleep well. One set of tracks that intrigued me was Sonatine bureaucratique. At first, I thought, finally some pieces for admin work. The opening track was no quite what I expected. I probably was expecting a Satie-ized version of Ein Deutsches Requiem. Did not finish all tracks. But will be revisiting soon.

Next, I moved to Duke Ellington's Far East Suite. I bought the album mainly for one track: Isfahan. It is unlikely I would ever visit Isfahan in my lifetime but the music that I associate with it would probably be better than the real thing. A beautiful song and would be a close substitute for my desert island track to replace Gymnopedie No. 1. The liner notes here are quite important as they provide some background. Apparently, the US State Department sponsored a 1963 world tour of Duke Ellington's orchestra. It had to be cut short because Kennedy (who is not exactly the best role model) was assassinated somewhere else while the tour was taking place. There was a remark in the notes stating Ellington's thoughts on Japan, “... they have an ability there to do some things better than the originals.”

Before I opened another CD, I played another CD I bought here in China. This was the Pandemonium Live Tour CD by the Pet Shop Boys (宠物店男孩,五光十色,世界巡回演唱会实况). This CD was printed and made locally by someone called 黄伟菁. Quite an interesting set of Chinese labels from a 10 year old product. Things must have been very different back then. I am not sure why they chose 五光十色 as the name, but I personally know from having watched the tour 11 years ago that the stage was extremely colorful and well designed. While listening to the CD and looking at the CD, I was brought back to how I caught this concert.

I was about to finish the Fall semester for my master's studies in Paris. I was only able to get tickets for the concert in Antwerp, Belgium. I think I bought it around November or so at FNAC (you got to learn French words like acheter, billet, Anvers (French for Antwerp), and other connectives). I also bought a Thalys ticket and it was going to be my first time taking this train. It was also winter around that time and I think the train was delayed for about 53 minutes or so. I am precise here because I could not get a 50% refund for the delay because it was not a one hour delay. Boo! Fucking boo!

The funny thing about this concert was that the next day I have to get back to Paris in the afternoon to take a real analysis exam. I was able to get back on time. I spent most of the time in the hostel of the Jewish quarter of Antwerp, studying for the exam just like nerds do. Of course, I went to the zoo which is just by the train station. But aside from that, I only went to the Sportpaleis for the concert. It was a beautifully made concert, though it somehow felt strange to be at the front alone. Ultimately it was enjoyable and I also recorded the concert (back when digital cameras were still a thing). Funnily enough, I think I was the only Asian in the village at that time. It must have felt strange for everyone else.

Listening to the CD brought me back to this time, while sorting through the files. All the tracks are good but this is a fan speaking. Tracks that I would recommend on the CD are the mashups. These are: More than a dream/Heart (超越梦想/心跳), Pandemonium/Can you forgive her? (五光十色/能原谅她吗?), Closer to Heaven/Left to my own devices (靠近天堂/自行其是), Se a vida e/Discoteca/Domino Dancing/Viva la vida (这就是生活/迪厅/骨牌游戏/生命万岁).

The next CD I opened was Sunday at the Village Vanguard with the Bill Evans Trio. I could only get a hold of an abriged version of the tour. There is a longer version which I could not find in record stores. Yes, I actually go to record stores to buy stuff. This was a good CD that should be listened repeatedly at different points in a day. Currently, I am listening to another Bill Evans CD Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Made and printed in West Germany, 1968). A curious composition is one called A Sleeping Bee (by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote!)

Whew, this entry went into all music mode. I probably would return next time with some other topics that are in my head waiting to be released. As of this moment, I am still not finished sorting my files. There are just so many PDFs.

Today's entry is about small, embarrassing mistakes we make. Some consequences can be dire, but some can extremely be funny (without even trying).

Yesterday, I almost fell into a manhole. After getting home, I found out during the same day from a shared WeChat moment that there was a virtual conference of a regional study group I have attended when I was a PhD student. I had the pleasure of participating in two poster sessions (learned TikZ which is quite useful) and gave a plenary talk (the last time I attended). I registered to attend and was able to get in. But internet connections was getting quite poor by the end so I had to leave. So, where is the booboo? It turns out my PhD supervisor was there and he sent me a private message asking about how I have been. I responded to EVERYONE. Of course, I said I was ok for the most part. This was already embarrassing enough but I am really glad I did not say, “Well I almost fell into a pit.” I am sure that conference will be unforgettable.

Another booboo I wanted to talk about was a booboo that had dire consequences. A University of Miami lecturer, teaching business analytics, resigned after a student released a Tiktok video pointing out that one of his bookmarks contained the words “Busty college girl fu...” In all likelihood, we all know what letters will follow. But there is a small probability that it could have been “Busty college girl funded after an arduous application process”. Or “Busty college girl furtively went to all girl's frat house.” But out suspicious minds automatically filled in the letters because that is the auto-fill/auto-correct function deep inside out hearts.

I shared the link to this news in WeChat and a couple of friends had quite a discussion. For me, it was an issue about boundaries for everyone concerned. The lecturer should have known better and most of us would have made an uninteresting bookmark folder, say, “Higher-order Theil-Nagar asymptotic expansions and weak IV” and dumped all of the private stuff there. The lecturer violated a boundary that exists in the classroom. The student should have not released the video. The student probably had the freedom to take the video, but there are consequences for violating someone's privacy. In effect, the student violated the lecturer's expectation of privacy.

One friend of mine commented on the lack of fairness to the lecturer and that training is necessary to avoid these things from happening. Yes, I agree. We all have secrets and there are consequences to revealing secrets. A part of me wondered what would have happened if the guy was not a lecturer but a lecturer with grant money. Another friend commented on the fact that “college girl” showed up which created a level of impropriety and a lack of ethics. I also wondered about this: would it be ok if it were MILFs instead? Some students would really feel uncomfortable if they really knew what kind of porn (or something simpler like kinks) their professors have. These students do have the right to be uncomfortable or express their discomfort. How do you come to a resolution of this? In the “new normal”, there is a lot more urgency in mot doing business as usual.

More than a decade ago, I was in a German language class with a friend of mine and we were just fucking bored of making sentences that I constructed a sentence that had the word pornstar in it (you know, just to have some fun) but nothing explicit at all (as I know that there are boundaries). In the German context, sexuality is something that is healthy and that one should be candid about, so I felt my joke was appropriate. But, one of my female classmates glared and gasped because she felt I was inappropriate. After class, I apologized for my utterance. She acknowledged it but I don't think she forgave me. We rarely spoke together in class after this.

These dire examples really tell you that boundaries are tricky and that inevitably you will offend or hurt someone. But I believe we have to try hard to negotiate and be explicit about these boundaries (like what that female classmate signaled). As always, do not double down on the mistake or boundary violation. I think tomorrow I will talk about the act of double-down, which I observe a lot in the university context.

While walking the streets, I found myself in quite an out-of-body experience. I felt that I fell into an actual manhole (heh heh, manhole...) that was not closed very tightly. It was not so bad as only one of my legs fell and the manhole cover flipped by roughly 80 degrees. Thank God my balls were safe. A couple of bystanders were unconcerned but two people who passed me helped me out.

The funny thing was that this manhole was around the quasi-residential/commercial complex I lived in before. So I knew where to find the guard and let this person know that this is quite a hazard. Of course, I did not know what manhole was in Chinese (though tempted to translate literally). The guard commented that some children are intentionally removing the manhole cover and letting the hole be slightly covered. This surprised me because a manhole cover is quite heavy! This guard really did not know what the fuck he was talking about. Of course, I asked how that is possible but the guard, like any old fart, just goes on saying the same thing and talking to the wind.

I wonder if someone else who almost fell into that same manhole will actually let someone else know about the danger. I was very much affected by a law course I took as an undergraduate. This law course is called obligations and contracts. I was mostly affected by how our actions have effects on others and could have compensating effects when it comes to determining damages. This law course was mostly about a civil code inherited from the Spaniards ( as I recall). I felt that notifying the guard releases me from potential liability and that I have done my due diligence to ensure that I will not be at fault. Although I can take comfort in this, I am worried about the next person that is going to fall into that hole.

That's it for today. A colleague of mine pointed out that I may have been chastised for blogging (I have had some harsh words to say). I had something prepared but felt that the urgency of this manhole event trumps whatever I prepared. So, I hope you enjoyed reading this entry. I will try to write more regularly. Somehow the new normal here in China is exactly the old normal.

Today is the first day of the Tomb-Sweeping Weekend. This tomb-sweeping event is a ritual shared by other countries of the world. But I am baffled by why April 4 would be a good choice for one of the possible dates. There is a superstition that I think is shared by Southern Chinese (I may be wrong) that 4 is a number associated with death, as it sounds similar to 死 (which means die). This superstition sometimes manifests itself as floors ending with 4 missing from the floor labels of buildings. I then wonder why April 4, which could be interpreted in many ways but fundamentally as Die, Die, would be the best candidate.

I think today was declared as a national day of mourning. There was a moment of silence followed by wails of alarms everywhere. I was still in the process of waking up from a not-so-good sleep and was greeted by the cacophony of these alarms. I wonder if those alarms somehow erase the personal grief of every person who has had loss. I wonder if we being public about our grief be a better alternative to tomb sweeping and these wails of alarms. Like just one day where we can close our phones, uninstall WeChat, and then wholeheartedly cry either in private or in public. Just one day where we can express our grief in whatever shape or fashion. Just for you to get a sense of how “a moment of silence” can be absurd from the point of view of grief, there is a skit in a show called TV Funhouse that you can look up. TV Funhouse was a show about twenty years ago and it can be delightfully offensive. It can push boundaries and was way ahead of its time. If you know and like the SNL skit called “The Ambiguously Gay Duo”, then you will like TV Funhouse. So, look up the skit Moment of Silence (what else?), which I think is in the second episode of its only season.

The funny thing is that I have attended funeral services of families with Chinese ancestry and have found “crying ladies”. I am not sure if they still exist nowadays but these ladies are supposed to make a show of crying. They are most of the time unrelated to the deceased. I wonder if we could still see them in more modern times.

Speaking about grief, it has been roughly three weeks since I found out that the tree that was bequeathed to me by a colleague was unceremoniously cut down. The tree still exists but no longer has its far-reaching branches. When I saw the tree for the very first time in almost two months, I was fucking angry. NO ONE informed me about this. I felt violated by this destruction. It felt senseless. Surely, there was another way.

This tree that was almost ailing when I got it from the colleague WAS resplendent in green. It grew taller over the years that I took care of it. I am glad that I was able to take a picture before the end of the Fall Semester. It is now but a shell of its former glory. I did not even get a note that this tree of mine would get manhandled. I wish I was given the chance to have brought it inside my office. I have not had the time to grieve this loss. I am not sure when the grief will hit me. I am only outraged and angry but there are other things going on that prevents me to tap further into that anger and to let it resolve into a bereavement.

I wonder if I should do a Zoom-eulogy and a Zoom-burial. Roughly two decades ago, a church from the Philippines has already thought of doing a via-satellite funeral service called e-burol. The name is also quite funny in the local vernacular. But it was developed as a way for migrant workers to be able to be able to pay final respects to their loved ones. At the end of the day, there are still duties left to be performed.

It has been 23 days since my last entry. Time really flies even if self-isolation is getting looser. I went out today to gather meat, vegetables, and fruits for the next weeks. We were able to last 3 weeks since my last grocery shopping last March 13. Of course, our strategy might not scale well for bigger households but I am thinking that a large refrigerator and freezer would be needed. For bigger households, preparing the sauce for pasta or the broth for noodles would be a good approach. I would also suggest that kids pitch in the meal planning so that they don't get bored by the food choices.

Both my outings today and three weeks ago have left me pissed off. After a few steps from exiting the apartment, I already see people spitting, cars parked where they should not park, people smoking with masks off (some even with an N95!!!! Fuck you.), couples getting their prenuptial photos without masks, and so on. The same annoyances that characterize the everyday minutae in “normal” times are now back. What was most annoying was a person who had quite a good mask and he took the mask down his chin and then sneezed like a fucking fucktard. Oh my God. My id is taking over the writing here. Have to control it.

Today is the first time I ever peeled a tomato as the goulash soup that I was making needed them. I did not know how but guessed that I would need to pour boiling water over tomatoes. It worked and somehow while peeling the tomatoes, I felt some joy and felt myself smile. The experience of peeling a tomato is certainly not orgasmic but it felt right and I felt calm. I think you should try it too.

I am glad to have that moment of calmness because the past three weeks have been energy draining and there were many moments in those past three weeks that just fucking pissed me off. Despite having only one course to teach and working from home mostly, I have not had the time to actually do productive research except for reading econometrics books for the course, crafting new slides, and reading papers related to fixed-$b$ asymptotics.

In case you have not heard about it, fixed-$b$ asymptotics is just what it is. $b$ stands for bandwidth and there is a growing literature (almost 15 years worth of research) on how to modify usual asymptotic theory in econometrics where $b\to\infty$ to the more realistic and practical case where $b$ is actually fixed. Typically you will see this type of asymptotics in the context of heteroscedasticity and autocorrelation consistent (HAC) estimation. To learn more, look up the paper called HAR Inference: Recommendations for Practice.

Now, back to my calmness or lack thereof. I was hoping that the outbreak will be a push for the university/school to actually explore and free itself of some of its structural problems. Most “tasks” in the university can really be done online without a lot of face-to-face. As a result, there should be a strong demand to be very clear, specific, and transparent about rules and regulations. But this demand somehow has fizzled because of a combination of not grumbling directly and in the open, staying silent, not making sure everyone participates in the discussion, and in general the lack of mindfulness. Somehow, the default settings are taking over once again, like nothing happened, now that the outbreak is somewhat in control here in China.

Another structural problem is the question of whether the university/school has the capacity to support international students. Sure, they are good for brochures. But the real tasks in the background are another thing. This structural problem also feeds in to the question of how different are international students from domestic Chinese students. If there exists a perfect student, I think that both international and domestic students are just differently weighted versions of the perfect student. Both these groups have different needs and require different approaches to “educational management”. God, I hate myself for even writing that phrase because many administrators talk the talk about teaching but really have no idea what it is like on the ground.

Yet another structural problem is the amount of effort that a professor dedicates in service. Given that there are tons of stuff happening that makes a school continue its operations, it is just right that everyone who participates in service (not just as a mouth-breather, will talk about this some other time) get adequate compensation either in the form of money or in terms of recognizing the hours they have put into the effort. For some reason, some of my colleagues view that self-reported hours may not be reliable. That is probably true but rendering service is a repeated game. If a colleague does not perform reliably, it becomes obvious after a couple of iterations. It is possible to just exclude this colleague from all services (that need to be rendered as part of the contract anyway) and do some sorting towards what would make the colleague happier in rendering service. I think the sorting should be a good thing in the long run. The repeated nature of the game should also somehow foster some trust, which the system desperately needs in order to function autonomously.

On brighter news, some students of mine have gotten offers to continue their PhD studies abroad. I am very happy for these students. I hope they can find a way to be better than me and would have more opportunities that I could not have. At some level, I believe that once you got a PhD, you are done. You should be training the next set of people and give them the opportunities. This is possibly one of the good things about the master-apprentice approach to the PhD. Publication would somehow just be a secondary goal. There is really no way of knowing about the ability of a professor unless you examine all aspects of that professor. You got to read their papers closely (rather than ask someone else to read it for you) if they have papers. I hope these students will change the way research is done and assessed.

Another bright piece of news is being able to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It is one of those games that is just chill and has some fun here and there. It is an excellent way to pass the time in a quarantine. The game operates on real time so there is no need to rush things or even to grind. I role-play as myself as a Resident Representative in an almost deserted island, which I named after my institution. It was just funny to do this. I especially liked developing the natural history museum with an owl named Blathers serving as the very knowledgeable, insect-fearing curator. I learned a lot of new science stuff from this owl. Quite a good resource for kids. When Blathers asks for contributes to the museum named after my institution, Blathers says “The cultural development of is a worthy endeavor indeed.” When Blathers said this, I was laughing so hard. Of course, I donated while wearing my star shades, groovy top, and floral skirt.