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Saturday morning reading

June 23, 2012

I’m feeling deliciously lazy today, with one more week left of my current job and one more week of hazy New York weather before I head up to math camp for three weeks (woohoo!). I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life after that, and suggestions are very welcome! Bonus for ideas on how to use modeling techniques to help people rather than to exploit them.

In the meantime, please join me in some light reading:

1) Read this (hat tip Kurt Schrader). Seriously, it’s incredibly snarky and funny and right on – a gawker’s view on the New York Times Style Section and its systematic approach of torturing its readers. My favorite line:

I want to take this sentence, drag it out into the backyard, and beat it to death with a shovel.

2) How are bee hives like too-big-to-fail banks? Turns out, in fewer ways than you think. Read more to understand a beekeeper’s perspective on risk (hat tip Eugene Stern). A nugget:

Take, for example, their approach toward the “too-big-to-fail” risk our financial sector famously took on. Honeybees have a failsafe preventive for that. It’s: “Don’t get too big.” Hives grow through successive divestures or spin-offs: They swarm. When a colony gets too large, it becomes operationally unwieldy and grossly inefficient and the hive splits. Eventually, risk is spread across many hives and revenue sources in contrast to relying on one big, vulnerable “super-hive” for sustenance.

3) As we already knew, people with bad credit scores don’t really have access to all this amazing lending at amazing rates, as the Fed now admits and as I suggested in this post, “A low Fed rate: what does it means for the 99%?”. I think the next step is a data dive into credit scoring histograms (say, aggregate FICO scores for all Americans) over the past 20 years, compared to corresponding credit card offers – I want to see what kind of deals average people can expect to get on loans. If you know how to get this data, please tell me!

4) One of my readers was kind enough to leave a link to this article on why incompetent people think they’re awesome. I’m sharing it with you guys but I reserve the right to write a post on this as well. Specifically, I’m thinking of writing a meta-piece about why, when people read about incompetent people thinking they’re awesome, they somehow always smugly conclude that those pathetic fools should get a clue and realize this article is about them.

Categories: musing
  1. Jonathan
    June 23, 2012 at 11:19 am

    In terms of math jobs in industries besides finance, have you considered being a business analyst in the marketing department of a tech company? One of the people who’s job it is to do things like forecast future sales, segment the customer base using mathematical models, and run A/B tests on their website? Tech companies tend to have a lot of data available, and they like to look for people with mathematical backgrounds to make models for them. These jobs have a lot of places where using elegant data mining techniques can really make a difference, and also they are providing a tangible benefit to the company. Also they don’t seem to crush your soul like finance jobs. And as a bonus it seems that there are way more analyst jobs available than qualified people, which is rare today.

    I’ve been an analyst at a number of companies, and I have found that I’ve really enjoyed the ability to solve problems with my mathematical skills, and also have felt like I’ve done something productive. Would recommend.

    One frustrating thing is that the role tends to have different names in different companies. I’ve seen it go as “business analyst”, “marketing analyst”, “quantitative analyst”, and “data scientist”. And sometimes these titles go on jobs that aren’t math modeling related, like business intelligence. So make sure you don’t skim the job posting.


  2. June 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Sounds like – deep down – you want to teach. Most top secondary school math students aren’t sufficiently challenged and you are in a good position to make a difference for many of them. Richard Rusyczk at AoPS might have some ideas.

    Bonus: Like you, lots of people are trying to repurpose their lives. If you could build a model to catalyze the process, we’d appreciate it. Maybe even pay you for it. 🙂


  3. karen
    June 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Visit California!


  4. Robert Smart
    June 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    I was inspired to blog about your future career: http://grampsgrumps.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/mathbabe-needs-job.html.

    You should consider politics or bureaucracy following the success of Prof David MacKay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_J._C._MacKay .


    • June 24, 2012 at 6:38 am

      Incredible, thank you! And great ideas. I’d love to have a full-time job sniffing out and exposing bullshit.



  5. Matt Morris
    June 25, 2012 at 9:46 am

    If you enjoy cognitive dissonance stuff, this is my favourite ever paper on the subject – comes with added avalanches: http://www.matthew-morris.com/blog/?p=1


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